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Chairman’s Wife Vows Support for Military Families

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

NEW YORK, Oct. 15, 2009 – Deborah Mullen, wife of the nation’s most senior military officer, had a message for military families while on the Sesame Street TV set here yesterday: servicemembers and their families have a wealth of support behind them.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Deborah Mullen, wife of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, takes a seat in Mr. Hooper’s store while visiting the Sesame studio in Queens, New York, Oct. 14, 2009. Deborah Mullen was there to support the filming of a video aimed at helping military children and their families cope with the loss of a loved one. DoD photo by Elaine Wilson

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

“I just would like to assure people that there are folks who care, who are working diligently to try and make it better,” Mullen said as she sat at the counter in Mr. Hooper’s Store on Sesame Street. “I think we can’t exactly understand what they’re going through, but we all want to make sure that we provide whatever it is they need, whether it’s resources, [or] education.”

One resource the military has had a hand in providing since the initiative began in 2006 is the Sesame Workshop’s “Talk, Listen, Connect.” The multi-media campaign includes two videos, which the Defense Department and other experts consulted on, that address ways for military children to handle separation, reintegration and changes in parents who return from deployment.

The third video, the taping of which Mullen, wife of Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was on set to observe, deals with the death of a loved one.

“I can only think that, given the trust that children have with the Sesame Street characters, that this will be a benefit that we will see … make a difference,” Mullen said. “Hopefully we will help children be able to address grief in whatever way that’s right for them.

“Families deal with things in different ways,” she added. “I think it’s difficult to say what works for one family is going to work for another.”

Keeping families connected with other families or to military installation programs is key to helping them deal with difficult times, Mullen said.

“I think that the more isolated a family is when they’re dealing with … the separations [and] these issues of reintegration, I think it’s more difficult on families,” she added. “I think it’s important for, particularly National Guard [and reserve] families, that they are connected to the school where their children attend.”

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is looking at developing training to help civilian counselors and teachers understand problems military children face, Mullen said.

Adding these types of resources are important as the military continues to look for ways to help its children, she said.

Some programs include a recently expanded YMCA child care program and the nonprofit National Military Family Association’s Operation Purple Camps, which are being expanded to include family retreats as well.

“When I speak with families, particularly families whose loved one has returned from a deployment, they really talk in positive terms about family retreats, how important it is to bring the family back together to try and regain some normalcy, with the understanding [that] everyone will have changed,” Mullen said. “It doesn’t matter where the deployment is, how long it is, whether or not it was in a war zone.”

Mullen also noted the new Military Child and Adolescent Center of Excellence at Madigan Army Medical Center in Fort Lewis, Wash., is available for military families. The center focuses specifically on families of servicemembers with multiple deployments and those who come home wounded, she said.

“They’re working very hard to try and help and also to let the families of those who have lost someone, the surviving families [know] that we will never forget, that we will always be there, and that we will work diligently to make sure that they’re OK,” she said.

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Robert M. Gates
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen

Related Sites:
Madigan Army Medical Center
Armed Services YMCA
National Military Family Association

Related Articles:
Muppets Help Military Kids Cope With Grief
AFPS Family Matters Blog: Sesame Workshop Teaches Kids About Loss

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