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Defense Leaders, Youth Unveil Action Plan

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 7, 1999 – Teen-agers who attended a DoD youth roundtable May 5 at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., said they feel less safe in their schools than they did before the killings at Columbine High School. They want to make sure DoD provides all military youth with programs that keep them off the streets and out of trouble. They also want to be heard.

The April 15 murders of 13 people and subsequent suicides of the two gunmen, also students at the Littleton, Colo., school, left Brandy Cross of Andrews and her fellow panelists confused and fearful that it could happen again in their schools. They and DoD leaders in attendance agreed the department needs to "rediscover" its youth, the theme of the brief meeting.

DoD used the roundtable to announce its new Strategic Youth Action Plan for strengthening and developing consistent quality in the youth programs worldwide. "My last base had a lot more teen programs. There isn't much to do here," Cross said.

Issues that concern DoD included increased absences by parents due to military deployments; growing youth violence and gang activity on or near military bases; insufficient after-school activities; the impact of frequent military transfers on youth; and other problems associated with American youth in general.

"Help us understand ways in which we can help everyone realize their full potential," Dr. Sue Bailey, who chaired the discussion, asked of the 12 middle- and high-school students attending the roundtable. Bailey, a psychiatrist and assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said the stresses of military life can be particularly hard on teen-agers. But she noted that DoD has a long history of reaching out to its children and providing them with substantive programs to help them get involved socially and recreationally in their military communities. "Overall," she said, "our youth are doing very, very well."

The roundtable followed a September 1998 planning conference and included flag officers and youths from each service branch. The conference identified ways in which DoD can better support military youths through more comprehensive after-school programs. The plan calls for standardizing policies throughout DoD that promote command and family involvement and encourage greater youth participation.

Other objectives include improving and expanding resources; developing partnerships with schools, religious organizations, law enforcement and other agencies; promoting health services for adolescent growth and development; and addressing the needs of at-risk youth.

The plan also addresses a concern many of those youth present at the roundtable expressed: hiring the right people to run youth programs.

Correy Hudson of Fort Benning, Ga., said every base should have a teen council that helps leaders develop programs and hire capable program directors. But Libby Lefebvre of Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., said a council wouldn't make any difference unless adults listen to what their teen-agers are saying.

She noted reports that school officials ignored warnings from other students before the disaster at Columbine High. "If they'd listened, maybe the tragedy could have been avoided," she said. "Sometimes we know what we're talking about."

"We are listening," Bailey responded. She and the other leaders lauded the roundtable participants and youth departmentwide. "It gives me a real confidence in our future," she said.

The DoD family policy office will oversee future activities under the plan. Program details can be found on the Internet at http://dticaw.dtic.mil/milchild/ or from the National Clearinghouse for the Military Child Development Program at (800) 237-3040. Information also is available from the Military Family Resource Center, on the Web at http://mfrc.calib.com, or by telephone at (703) 696-9053 or DSN 426-9053, or by writing:

Military Family Resource Center
4040 N. Fairfax Drive, Room 420
Arlington, VA 22203-1635

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