By Megan Locke Simpson, Courier staff April 21, 2014
Fort Campbell, Ky. -- For 10-year-old Jackson Elementary School student Nathan Miller, the life of a military child is both "hard and fun."
When his Dad left for deployment on his birthday, it was hard. However, there are perks.
"I get to go places normal kids don't usually get to," he said.
To celebrate the resilience and sacrifices of Miller and his peers, the Department of Defense designates April as the Month of the Military Child. During this month, the U.S. military, along with Department of Defense schools, child care organizations and other groups, set aside time to celebrate military children. Fort Campbell kicks off the month with parades at the Child Development Centers, Family fun days and other events.
At Jackson Elementary, students and teachers participated in a Spirit Week, April 7 through April 11. Students celebrated by dressing up for themed days, such as career day and hat day. Jackson also donated quilts that the students helped create to Fort Campbell's Fisher House. Thomasa Ross is part of a team of teachers at the school that helped plan Month of the Military Child activities this year.
"The Month of the Military Child is special to our school because it gives us another opportunity to celebrate our small heroes for their extraordinary acts and resiliency as military children," the fourth grade teacher said. "... We try to plan fun and engaging activities for the students, however, we also plan activities where the students can give back to their community."
Many of the classes were visited by well-known people throughout the Fort Campbell and Clarksville communities, including Department of Defense Education Activity Kentucky District Assistant Superintendent Gary Gerstner, Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillan and Miss APSU Victoria Davis, among others, who all read aloud to younger students.
Davis visited with a class taught by Anna Suell and Paula Phillips Friday afternoon, where she read a patriotic book called "I Pledge Allegiance" to the kindergarten class. Now a 21-year-old Austin Peay State University student pursuing a biology pre-med degree, Davis' father also served at Fort Campbell. While she discussed everything from wiggly teeth to her crown with the kindergarten class, Davis said she was excited to be able to give back to children who are going through experiences she understands well.
"It was definitely really rewarding to hear how happy [the kids are]," she said. "They're like, 'Oh my dad came back and I was so happy,' because I've definitely had that same feeling myself when my dad came back from a couple of deployments."
To cap off the Spirit Week activities, Jackson Elementary students and staff gathered for an assembly Friday afternoon. The Fort Campbell High School JROTC Color Guard participated, along with the exhibition drill team, who swirled rifles much to the younger students' delight.
101st Airborne Division Transportation Officer Maj. David P. Key served as the guest speaker. Key has two children enrolled at Jackson, Jessa and Spencer.
He explained how military children account for "about .3 percent of the entire population of school-age children in the United States" or about 2 million students. While that statistic alone makes military children unique, Key also explained the frequency of moves makes their lives different.
"In case you haven't experienced it yet, you're going to move anywhere from one to eight times in your life," he said. "... You have to change schools everywhere you go. You have to adjust to new teachers. You have to adjust to new students and new classes. That's a pretty daunting task. I'll tell you."
Key said seeing at least one parent deploy an average of two to eight times sets military children apart from other students.
"What I really think is cool, though, is through these experiences and hardships, you guys have the ability like no other child in the Nation to make it all work," the Soldier said. "You settle in more quickly and make friends faster. You gain a sense of responsibility during your separation that nobody else gets to experience. I think that puts you a step ahead of all the other children in our Nation."
Todd Curkendall, DoDEA Kentucky District assistant superintendent, also commended Jackson Elementary students for their sacrifices and resiliency.
"You're able to adapt to change and adversity, sometimes much better than adults, because change is inevitable," he said. "You're going to get taller; you're going to get older; you're going to go to different places. You're going to move ... To be able to have those skills when you have adversity is very, very important. That's the reason it's important to have resilience."
After the 101st Airborne Division Band concluded the assembly, 10-year-old Jessa Key spoke about how proud she was to have her father come and speak. Key, a fourth grader, said she has already moved multiple times, but she makes the best of it.
"It's sad moving when you miss your friends, but sometimes you can sort of get their email and keep in touch," she said, with a smile.