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Family Matters Blog: Blogger Highlights Program for Military Kids

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 15, 2010 – Lisa Daniel is a writer and editor for the Defense Department’s American Forces Press Service. I invited her to write a guest blog for Family Matters to highlight the "Me and a Friend" program that's benefiting military children.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Izeyah Escobar, 8, left, and Giselle "Gi Gi" Martinez, 7, root on the Washington Nationals against the San Francisco Giants in Washington, D.C., July 11, 2010. The two are at the game as part of the "Me and a Friend" program, a partnership between the Defense Department and USO. The program sponsors tickets to sporting events and other activities for military children to make new friends in spite of frequent relocations and moves. DoD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
  

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

Me and a Friend

I had the pleasure on the Fourth of July to attend a Washington Nationals baseball game in the nation's capital that provided the launching pad for a new USO program honoring children of servicemembers.

The kids may not have picked up on the symbolism, but the Independence Day setting while watching the national pastime was the perfect venue to kick off the "Me and a Friend" program.

Like most military kids I've met, those at the Nationals game were humble about the attention on them, and seemed unaware of their role in the nation's military success.

Kelsie Vick was one such example. Kelsie, who turned 18 last week, has moved 10 times for her father, Army Master Sgt. John Vick, to fulfill his soldier duties. Kelsie, a volunteer photographer with the USO, takes the military lifestyle in stride. "I liked it," she said.

Kelsie's reaction, to not offer even a hint of complaint about the demands the military lifestyle places on children, is common among military kids.

Doug Wilson, the Pentagon's deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, got the idea for the "Me and a Friend" program after meeting with another military daughter with a similar attitude. The 11-year-old girl Wilson spoke with during a chance meeting at a military conference last fall kept her concerns about her father's Afghanistan deployment on her younger brother, who she said was coming home from school every day announcing a new best friend.

Wilson, hoping to give military kids a sense of normalcy and bonding with friends, reached out to the USO to create the program, which obtains donated tickets to ballgames, shows and other events, so military kids can get free tickets for themselves and a friend.

As Nationals President Stan Kasten said, it is an easy program for major league sports teams and others to give away seats. But it's no small matter for children who change schools and neighborhoods every couple of years to get to invite their new best friend to the biggest event in town.

As adults, it's easy to forget what it's like to give up your familiar surroundings and become "the new kid" -- again. And many of us have never known the anxiety and sadness of having a parent away in a war zone.

Military kids don't get a say about being in the military, yet they are in it as much as their parents, and each one's ability to adapt to the lifestyle has a direct impact on their  parent's ability to do their job and stay in the service.

I hope sports teams, theaters and others will be generous in donating tickets to the USO. As Kasten said, "When you think about kids being separated from their parents in their service to the country, we can’t do enough for them."

For more on this program, read my American Forces Press Service article: "New Program Honors Military Kids, Friends With Fun."

To comment on this blog, please visit the Family Matters blog.

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