Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his wife, Deanie, opened the Military Child Education Coalition seminar here today with a candid question-and-answer session featuring a panel of five teenagers involved in military family and civilian peer support.
In his fifth and final MCEC speech as chairman, Dempsey noted former military child Kris Kristofferson, who celebrated his 79th birthday last month, and whose popularity crossed generations as both country and western singer and action movie star.
“I mentioned him because he’s actually a military child; he’s the son of an Air Force general,” Dempsey said of the former Army officer turned entertainer. “He described being a military child as, ‘magical, privileged, and painful all at the same time,’ and I think many of us can relate to what that means.”
To ensure inclusive, quality educational opportunities for military-connected children, MCEC emerged 18 years ago as a private, non-profit 501c(3) organization serving military- and veteran-connected youth in the United States and overseas.
The Military Opens Doors
One student among the panel asked Dempsey about the types of opportunities offered by the military.
“Every door that you can imagine is open to you right now until you do something to close it,” the chairman said. “I’m the grandson of four Irish immigrants, grew up in Bayonne, New Jersey. My father was a postman [and] my mother stocked shelves in a convenience store … and I’m the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- I can tell you, that would not happen any place else.”
Another student asked Deanie to share her perspective as the spouse of the highest-ranking military officer in the nation.
“No matter where you go, we’re held in esteem because we’re representing the United States of America,” she said, “and it’s pretty neat to know that we’ve been given this gift to [do so for] our service members … to care about them, and do the best we can for them.”
But wherever his travels might take him, the chairman emphasized the importance of staying connected.
“You can become really isolated as the chairman, unless you put yourself out there and try to find out what’s going on,” he said.
Transitions, Separations Impact Military Children
In a July 28 DoD News interview, Dr. Mary M. Keller, MCEC president and CEO, said the organization serves about 4 million children ranging from newborn through age 23, and roughly half of those have a parent currently serving on active duty, or in the National Guard or reserves. In that group, she added, are some 1.2 million school-aged children.
Keller said transitions and separations are the most prominent challenges unique to military children.
“Kids tell us, ‘Gone is gone,’” she said. “So if mom or dad are gone for training or they’re deployed, whatever it is, that’s a separation from a child, and it means a missed birthday, but it also means that parent has a challenge in staying as connected to school as they would like to … so that whole education continuum is different for military kids.”
According to Keller, children who have active-duty military parents tend to move about three times more often than their civilian classmates.
“That translates into six to nine different schools from kindergarten until they graduate from high school,” Keller said.
In a way, military children also serve, and many of those who currently wear the uniform have military service in their family histories, Keller said.
“About 40 percent, conservatively, of those who serve come from a military family,” she said. “So with an all-volunteer force, taking care of the children is essential.”
(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleDODNews)