Commentary: Schweinfurt's military children have big stories to tell
May 1, 2014
SCHWEINFURT, Germany (May 1, 2014) -- They did not choose this life. Nor did they have a say in joining the service. They withstand frequent moves, cope with deployments and endure school transitions with strength and resilience. Yet they are adaptable. And they have big stories to tell.
In many ways, our military children look and act like other civilian children. Their differences aren't visible on the surface, but spend a few moments with one and those differences start to become more prominent to the plain eye.
"Young lives, big stories" was the theme for this year's Month of the Military Child in April. So what do these children think? I had the opportunity to tag along with some military children on a zoo trip with the garrison's Child, Youth and School Services. I wanted to get below the surface and hear their stories -- to gain a better understanding of what it means to be a military child.
I watched the children arrive at the CYS School Age Center and greet their caregivers and friends. They packed their lunches, listened to the safety briefing, and participated in accountability checks before loading onto the bus for the trip to the zoo, just as their civilian counterparts would.
Once we were on our way, I watched the differences surface. Should I cover my American themed shirt, asked Kacey Mickens, a 10-year-old either sensitive to a foreign culture or else steeped in OPSEC awareness.
Michael Liao, 6, wondered why the German kids sitting across from him were staring as he ate his bagged lunch. A German cultural nuance perhaps, but it's clear that some kids may feel like strangers in a strange land.
The kids I tagged along with on this trip have been stationed in Schweinfurt, Germany for at least two years. They represent the 1.2 million military children of active-duty members worldwide. They laugh and play on the American post with other military kids. Once off the installation, they are ambassadors of America. They are asked to follow the rules and safety procedures of the Americans as well as follow the cultural expectations of the Germans.
Life isn't easy. As adults we often take for granted the amount of moves we rack up over time. But it is common for military kids to attend five, seven and even nine different schools before they even graduate high school, according to the School Superintendents Association. And I thought just getting my driver's license before graduation was a big achievement!
I didn't ask the kids where they were from. I didn't want to confuse them. Frequent moves can make this question difficult to answer. Instead, I asked what it is they like about being a military kid.
"I like to visit new places and move to new places," said 7-year-old Jazmyne Drabek.
She will be making her fourth move since being born into the military lifestyle.
The Schweinfurt military community closes September 2014. The community population as a whole has shrunk drastically over the course of the children's two years stationed here. Jason Donaldson, 6, is one of nine children in his first-grade class. Since January, they've watched moving trucks pack out their friend's things almost every day.
The stories the children shared throughout the day involved time spent with their military family, trips to other countries and fun at the School Age Center. The kids sang songs, played guessing games, and held contests to see who could hold their breath the longest. The children in this group weren't focused on their upcoming transition. They seem to take each moment as a new adventure.
Take a moment before the end of this month and recognize the important role the children in the military community play in contributing to our Army family strength. Their "service" as military children is full of big stories. Honor that service and the sacrifices they are asked to make. Thank a child as you pass them by.
U.S. Army Garrison Schweinfurt hosted the last Kinderfest, an annual hallmark event topping off the commemorative month honoring military children, April 26 at Askren Manor.