First Lady Lends Voice to Military Children
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
DENVER, Aug. 5, 2006 Children in military families face unique pressures and stress, and need community and family support to lead successful lives, first lady Laura Bush said here yesterday at a conference addressing youth issues.
“Military kids are resourceful and resilient, but the demands of military life -- frequent moves and school transitions, long-distance parenting, parents reentering family life after the trauma of combat, not to mention the stress of knowing that Mom or Dad is in harm's way -- present unique difficulties for our troops and their children,” Bush said during her remarks at the Helping America’s Youth Regional Conference here.
“Military families give so much to our communities and our country, and Americans have the obligation to help them in every way that we can,” she continued.
Bush was here for the second of a series of regional conferences focused on the Helping America’s Youth initiative, a nationwide effort to raise awareness about challenges facing America’s youth, which was announced by President Bush during his 2005 inauguration speech. This conference had a panel focused solely on helping children in military families.
During an exclusive interview with American Forces Press Service before her remarks, Bush said that the large military population around Denver made it especially relevant to include a panel on military children in this conference, but that addressing the specific needs of military children is important to the overall initiative as well.
“I know that all of the same things we would do for military kids, we can do for other kids,” she said. “A lot of kids need it. And vice versa. All the programs … that are great for all children, are especially good for military children, especially military children who only have one parent who’s deployed, and are left without a lot of support at home.”
As part of the Helping America’s Youth program, Bush has traveled around the country and visited many youth outreach programs to see the impact these programs have on the country’s youth. During her visits to troops overseas, she said, she has also seen how deployments affect the parents who miss out on time with their children.
“I know the part that worries parents the most is that their kids are home, and their kids are home without them,” she said. “And they miss them; that’s just a fact of life. Not only do the children miss the parents, but I know that that deployed troop misses his children.”
The Helping America’s Youth program is designed to give children in civilian and military families the support network they need to grow into successful adults, Bush said. She added that she hopes the program will inspire military parents to reach out and find ways they can support their children better, whether they are deployed or not. It’s important for parents to seek community resources, such as mentor programs and faith-based services, that can support their children outside of the home, she said.
“Really smart parents figure out ways to support their children in a lot of ways -- not thinking that they can do it all themselves -- no matter what the circumstances are,” she said. Bush said she has seen many programs that help military families, and specifically children in military families, and that those programs are very important.
She mentioned the Fountain-Fort Carson High School in Fountain, Colo., where teachers and students often go the extra mile to ensure military children transitioning in are welcomed and taken care of.
“Whether through informal acts of love like those in Fort Carson, or through formal military support programs like the ones we'll hear about later today, efforts to help military kids are vital to the success of Helping America's Youth,” she said. “As our troops risk their lives around the world to keep our children safe, they shouldn't have to worry about their own children here at home.”
Leslye Arsht, deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy, was also at the conference and said it was a good opportunity for the Defense Department to inform the public about the issues facing military children.
DoD has many programs aimed at helping military children, and installations often tailor programs for children when a unit deploys, Arsht said. DoD leaders always focus on the best practices that research indicates are helpful for children in military families, Arsht said.
Among other things, the department offers transition support, school support like study programs, and guides for helping children cope with separation, she said. The Helping America’s Youth program provides insight on more programs the department can use, she added.
“What a great opportunity it was to be able to share with many community activists who are really stepping up to being an important person in a troubled child’s life,” she said. “To be able to talk with those activists about military children has been a great opportunity for us to talk to a larger segment of America about the challenges that military children and their parents face.”