By David Mays
Nov. 22, 2006 – "I send him off with a kiss goodbye, although I understand that he may die." Those are words from a poem written by a third-grader named Gloria who lives with her family at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. She concludes her poem this way: "I serve too." That child's sentiment is the subject and title of the Pentagon Channel's new half-hour documentary "Recon," which premiers Nov. 24 at noon Eastern Time and will be repeated throughout the holiday season. The show will also be available via podcast, vodcast and video on demand.
"Coping with family separation, fear for a parent, and trying not to let their pain show are things many military children experience," said Recon host Air Force Master Sgt. Daniela Marchus. "But there's a growing awareness of the challenges and special needs military kids have, particularly those of Guard and reserve families."
The documentary introduces viewers to a military family who experienced deployment to a war zone firsthand and explores how their children dealt with the painful reality.
"Being without your dad when you're 8 years old is a big deal," said Army Reserve Capt. Arthur Rizer, who was deployed to Iraq last year for 15 months with just three weeks' notice. "I can only imagine what his little heart and mind were going through."
Rizer's wife, Monique, was just adjusting to caring for 8-year-old Gabriel and 1-year-old Asher on her own when she got word her husband's vehicle had been attacked by an improvised explosive device, just one week into his deployment. Several Iraqi citizens in the patrol were killed. Somehow, Rizer escaped with only a concussion and some hearing loss. Monique was suddenly struck with the very real danger her husband faced every day. Her older son reacted too.
"He developed a lot of fears," Monique said. "He started having nightmares. He was just afraid of everything."
According to National Military Family Association figures, about 115,000 children are coping with having one or more parents deployed away from home. While many assistance resources have long been available for deploying servicemembers, the same has not been true for military children, according to the association.
"After 9/11, parents started calling and saying 'Hey, there are great programs, but there's nothing for my kids,'" said MNFA's Michelle Joyner. "We need something where kids can get together and build their own network."
"People don't think about the effect on kids," Marchus said. "It's huge."
Marchus discovered help was more readily available for active duty families than for Guard and reserve families, who tend to be more isolated from fellow servicemembers. For instance, she said, active duty military children are likely to attend school with other military kids. When children of Guard and reserve parents suddenly find their family "called up," they may have no peers to talk with who are experiencing the same thing, she explained.
But Marchus said she discovered during her research that more and more organizations are reaching out to military children. The legendary children's television program "Sesame Street" has even developed a program to help young children better understand and cope with a parent's deployment. Military families from all services, including the Guard and reserve, contributed to the development of that program that features a DVD starring a beloved Sesame Street character.
"We can really help children under 5 in military families, along with their parents, to really stay connected," said Sesame Workshop's Jeanette Bettancourt. "To listen to one another, to talk to one another during a deployment."
Gabriel Rizer found a unique way to do just that while his father was away in Iraq. "I used to write books for weeks, and then I'd send them to him," Gabriel says.
Other programs including special summer camps for military children are featured in this Recon, as are Web sites where families can turn for resources and help. "It's likely there's a benefit or service that best fits your children's specific needs," said Marchus, who interviewed some of the world's top experts on military children. "Their advice to everyone else is to remember, in their own way, military kids serve too."
Article sponsored by Navy Gifts and police officer turned law enforcement writer.