By Chelsea Bissell, U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria Public AffairsFebruary 24, 2014
VILSECK, Germany -- When Dr. Michael Priser, Vilseck High School psychologist, first met with his "deployment group," six VES students of deployed parents, he found that most didn't need his help.
"It was interesting to watch the dynamics of the group," said Priser. "Some of them needed moral support, but most of them didn't. They had already been through deployment six or seven times."
With their collective years of deployment, the students were in a better position to give advice than receive it, Priser realized. Their experience could help younger military children facing their first or second deployment.
The group brainstormed what helped them and their families, and compiled the best ideas in coloring book for elementary-aged children.
The goal of the book, explained Priser, is to guide younger children toward constructive ways of addressing the complex feelings and problems surrounding deployment.
"What I wanted to do is come up with a positive way to deal with deployment," he said.
On Feb. 18, the VHS deployment group sat down with counselors, school psychologists and Military Family and Life Consultants at Vilseck Elementary School to present their ideas and coloring book.
The book is divided into four sections, each encompassing an aspect of deployment.
Under each section are suggestions made by the VHS teens, along with black and white drawings for the younger kids to color.
The high schoolers led the room of mental health professionals, and later, a group of fifth-graders with deployed parents, through the book, highlighting each section: Staying Connected, Sharing Feelings, How to Help the Parent at Home, and Reintegration.
As they read through the pages, the students elaborated on the suggestions with personal anecdotes.
To stay connected, Cyle Smith, 14, and his deployed dad read the same chapter of "The Hunger Games" every week and discussed it over FaceTime.
"For my second deployment," added Joshua Fandrich, 16, "My dad sent me beanbags and that's all I slept on for a year."
They discussed turning to a counselor, a teacher, a friend, or even a pet, when sharing feelings about their families.
Ultimately, Priser would like to put the coloring book online so parents, children and mental health professionals could use it as a tool in their deployment kits.
So far, the counselors and school psychologists at VES see the book and the teens' insights as invaluable for the younger students.
"I think this is a valuable thing so that our kids know that someone else has been through this," said Glen Cella, Vilseck Elementary School psychologist.
Addressing the teens, VES Principal Scott Finlay said, "What you share and the advice you give them speaks volumes."