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America to Honor Military Families

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 13, 1998 – Mom or Dad may wear the uniform, but as every military family member knows, spouses and children serve the nation as well. Along with their military husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, they, too, serve throughout the United States and overseas.

President Clinton recently hailed military families, and America will soon honor their unique service during Military Family Week, Nov. 22 to 29. The president called on American families across the nation to give special thanks during this holiday season for the service and sacrifice of America's men and women in uniform and their families.

"Americans owe a profound debt of gratitude to our military families," Clinton said in his 1998 message to military families.

Military family members' love and support strengthens the nation's armed forces who serve across the nation and around the world, "defending America's freedom, promoting our values and carrying out vital humanitarian and peace-keeping missions," the president said.

Throughout the years, he noted, military families have had to endure "weeks, months, and sometimes years" of separation from loved ones. "Hillary and I ... think of all those who will still be apart at this holiday season, and we rejoice with those who have been reunited after lengthy separations."

As part of the celebration, the Armed Forces YMCA and GEICO Direct distributed a poster and other materials in October to military family centers worldwide highlighting the theme "Military Families -- American Success." The blue-and-white-bordered poster features a colorful drawing by 9-year-old Kimberlee Fowler, daughter of Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher and Christina Pacheco Fowler.

Fowler is assigned to A Company, 2nd Battalion, 54th Infantry, at Fort Benning, Ga. Kimberlee is a fourth-grade student at the Department of Defense Herbert J. Dexter Elementary School.

Kimberlee's depiction of her family was one of about 2,000 elementary school children's entries to an art contest sponsored by the Armed Services YMCA and GEICO Direct. Andersen Consulting, sponsor of the Vincent van Gogh art exhibit currently on display at the National Gallery, awarded Kimberlee a $5,000 Savings Bond and hosted the Fowlers to a weekend in Washington for her winning effort.

"Families are a critical part of the DoD mission," according to Gail McGinn, the Pentagon's principal director for personnel support, families and education. Military Family Week provides an opportunity to say thank you, she said in a recent interview. Pentagon leaders know it's not easy being a military family, she noted.

Separations due to deployments, new assignments, schooling and other duties have always been an issue for military families. "Military families have to be able to sustain themselves when the military member is away," McGinn said. "Military spouses take on much responsibility for managing the household over and above what they would do when their spouse is there."

Pentagon leaders have recognized the fact that when a service member decides to stay in the military, it is a family decision, McGinn said. As a result, the Defense Department has initiated programs aimed at helping military family members deal with the particular stresses of military life. These include spouse employment and relocation services.

"Overall," McGinn said, "there's been a general recognition that families are part of the team and that we've got to build support structures for our families so they can support us in our very important mission."

Admittedly, military life has its drawbacks, McGinn said, but being part of the military community also has its rewards. "We have done some good work in the last few years in improving and upgrading programs and facilities for our military families," she said. "We've worked very hard at building military communities that are safe and that offer community services."

DoD's child care system has been recognized as one of the best in the country, McGinn said, and DoD has an excellent school system for families overseas. Much work is currently being done to improve physical fitness centers, she added.

A secondary reward of being a military family member is less tangible, but nonetheless, very real, said McGinn, whose father and husband are both retired soldiers. "As a military family member myself, I know you make lifelong friends and you belong to a community of people that is there with you for your whole life. When you're not a member of a military community, you miss that."

Military Family Week is designed to give commanders, installations and military families themselves a chance to recognize the importance of the military family, McGinn said.

"Service members work long hours, there are after-school activities, spouses often work -- it's a good opportunity to take time out of their very busy schedules and celebrate the moment with their families," she advised. "When you see the sign that says "Military Family Week," take a moment and think about how precious a family really is."

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