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Videos for Children of Deployed Military Members Gain Popularity

By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 4, 2008 – Two videos produced by Army Medical Command and the American Academy of Pediatrics to help children and adolescents cope during a parent’s deployment are gaining in popularity.

“Military Youth Coping with Separation: When Family Members Deploy” addresses a variety of deployment-related concerns for teens, and “Mr. Poe and Friends Discuss Reunion After Deployment” was made for elementary-school-age children.

“We hope these videos will support the healthy emotional development of military children and adolescents during potentially difficult times in their lives,” Army Maj. (Dr.) Keith Lemmon of the pediatrics department at Madigan Army Medical Center at Fort Lewis, Wash., said during a “Dot-Mil-Docs” radio show on BlogTalkRadio.com July 31. “We also hope these videos will decrease feelings of stigma and isolation in our military children while sensitizing the larger American community to military child and adolescent culture and support needs.”,

Lemmon is a co-founder of the Military Child and Adolescent Center of Excellence and vice president of the Uniformed Services West Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The videos, developed by military pediatricians and youth professionals to help military children understand and deal with the emotions related to a family member’s deployment, have been so well-received that another 100,000 copies of each video will be distributed by Military One Source in the near future. More than 100,000 copies initially produced in the project already have been distributed.

“Our goal is to reduce the anxiety and fear surrounding a military deployment, and let children know they are not alone in the struggles their families are facing,” Lemmon said.

Lemmon, an Army pediatrician and adolescent medicine subspecialist, first became aware of the need for more support for the children of deployed families when he served in Afghanistan in 2002. He and his wife, a teacher, did their best to prepare their son for the deployment, but it soon became clear they hadn’t done enough.

“Within just a couple of weeks of my departure, my normally well-behaved 4-year old son started having some acting-out behavior, and a little bit of regression, kind of moving backward in his development,” Lemmon said. “[He] was expressing that he wasn’t comfortable with my absence.”

The doctor said it struck him when he returned from his six-month deployment that if he and his wife were having this degree of difficulty as child health and educational professionals, how might this be affecting the average soldier, airman, sailor or Marine, who is likely to have has less understanding of child behavior? When Lemmon returned to his duties as a pediatrician at Fort Bragg, N.C., he began noticing how the frequent and extended deployments were affecting the children in his practice.

“When I got back from my deployment, a lot of other soldiers were deploying, and I began to notice a lot of children who were presenting with complaints of headaches and stomachaches that I couldn’t explain,” Lemmon said.

He added that if children are not emotionally content, perhaps associated with the lack of a connection with an important adult in their life, they may start to display physical symptoms.

“As pediatricians, we are not trained to look that closely at how emotional concerns and stress affect the physical health of our young patients,” Lemmon acknowledged. “However, we are hoping to address that lack of training through the videos we’ve developed and many other opportunities developing through the Military Child and Adolescent Center of Excellence that is being established at Madigan Army Medical Center.”

Lemmon said his family’s experience with his own deployment inspired him to address the effects of deployment among adolescents. If servicemembers have the perception that their children’s emotional and physical health are being well-cared-for when they are deployed, he explained, they are more likely to be able to focus on their critically important military missions.

“As we start to frame the discussion more in terms of military family readiness and support, it is becoming more popular,” he said. “As we provide more support for our military families to prepare them for the potential stresses of deployment and separation, then our warriors are going to be more able to focus on their mission.”

Lemmon added that while servicemembers voluntarily join the military, their children’s service and sacrifice are more of a compulsory condition of being a military child, so it’s important to acknowledge that and to honor the children’s personal service and sacrifice.

“Being a military child or adolescent is actually a very unique experience,” Lemmon said. “We think belonging to a military family really is a special thing. Military children serve and sacrifice for their nation in a way that is very important and is different from the way we as military servicemembers serve and sacrifice.”

In addition to the videos, the national community continues to show its support for military children and adolescents. Lemmon added that the American Academy of Pediatrics is providing a voice for what it means to be a military child through its funding and supporting much of the advocacy work that has been done in this area, including the development of the AAP Military Youth Deployment Support Web site.

Lemmon added that other programs also offer assistance, such as the Military Child Education Coalition.

“They advocate for educational issues for children, making sure that military children are treated fairly when they transfer into new school districts and that their credits transfer and they don’t have to retake the basic history course every time they move to a new place because they are military kids,” Lemmon explained.

The doctor said the videos for teens and younger children are different because their deployment-related needs are different. “We know children experience stress differently based on their developmental age,” he said. “Younger children may have significant attachment concerns when their parents deploy. They need to attach to their parents, feel comfortable and connected in order to grow up emotionally healthy.”

Both videos are available for online viewing on the American Academy of Pediatrics Deployment Support Web site at www.aap.org/sections/unifserv/deployment/ and are available for ordering in DVD format through Military One Source at 1-800-342-9647 or www.militaryonesource.com/skins/MOS/home.aspx.

(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg works in the New Media directorate at the Defense Media Activity.)

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