By Ms. Mary Markos (IMCOM)April 1, 2009
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- "Daddy, why do people have to go to war'"
In a time of war and multiple deployments, military children ask difficult questions. The Military Child Education Coalition is helping educators and community service professionals find the answers and ease the challenges our youngest Soldiers face.
The coalitions' most recent initiative, Living in the New Normal: Supporting Children Through Trauma and Loss, held a two-day, professional development seminar in Grafenwoehr March 26-27.
More than 40 educators, nurses, psychologists, and school administrators attended and were given the tools and resources needed to assist and support children who have had a parent killed, seriously wounded, or become ill as a result of combat duty.
The training, which focused on the strengths of children as they cope with change, presented participants different viewpoints, literature and situations that explained the wide range of emotions children and students deal during a time of uncertainty.
For many of the participants who teach and work in Grafenwoehr and Vilseck, where more than 5,000 troops have deployed in the last two years, the training will be put to use immediately.
"We are in the middle of a huge deployment at our school and we're starting to see all the stresses that are on our families and how it manifests in the kids," said Mary Corrigan, a counselor at Netzaberg Elementary School. "We are now seeing R&R and the kids are having another separation. They have to cope with that change again. I think (the training) gives us the opportunity to look at it with a different lens and it shows us how we can help them."
The LINN initiative developed, said Patty Shinseki, MCEC board member who served as a facilitator at the training, after schools and professionals began requesting tools, resources and practical strategies for children who were affected by combat injuries, illness and deaths.
"We did a lot of research ... and found that there was not much available that was specifically geared toward military children," she said.
Shinseki, a long-time military spouse and mother whose husband was injured twice during Vietnam, understands how an injury of war affects the entire family.
"We had two children while he was deployed, so some of what the young spouses are experiencing today we did back then ... but there were no services available," she said.
Improving services for families - especially children - became her focus.
"That's what drives me every day and inspires me to keep this alive," she said. "The specific focus on children really elevates the importance of their service because they are serving alongside their parents and they are being impacted by what their parents are doing. This program is geared to honor their service and celebrate the courage they've demonstrated and really ... build resilience for them in the environment they are living."
This environment, however, is not limited to military communities.
"I would say 79 to 80 percent of our children go to public schools. The training we do is primarily geared towards public schools serving the military-connected children," Shinseki said.
Transcending the military community, said Brenda Coffield, Installation Management Command-Europe school transition specialist, is key to a child's success during a difficult time.
"The consistency of how to help our children if they experience a loss, or their mother or father come home injured, is really important. The Military Child Education Coalition is nationally recognized for this program," she said.
The MCEC is a private nonprofit organization focused on the academic and school-related needs of the military-connected child.
MCEC offers three components of the LINN initiative: a professional development course as seen in Grafenwoehr; resources and research based references; and public engagement, which educates communities about the stresses of deployments, including trauma or loss of a loved one.
More information on the LINN initiative, training sites and dates are available on the MCED Web site, www. militarychild.org."