HUNTER ARMY AIRFIELD, Ga. -- The moist air did not dampen the enthusiasm of 350 participants at the Month of the Military Child kickoff parade around the parking area of Hunter Army Airfield's Child Development Center, April 1.

The rain held off as children - ages six weeks to six years - parents, volunteers and staff members followed hand-in-hand behind the Beach High School band, Royal Jewels dancers and Junior ROTC cadets who led the event.

After the parade, the group gathered for a ceremony and refreshments at the Child and Youth School Services building next door.

"I got emotional when I drove up and saw the children lined up to march," said Lawanda Cooper, Hunter's Child and Youth School Services coordinator, who has a husband deployed to Iraq and two children of her own. "It felt very personal."

The parade was the first April event to celebrate, honor and encourage children of Soldiers. The month is a time of recognizing the courage and strength required of military children when their parents deploy, Cooper said.

More than 1.7 million American children under the age of 18 have at least one parent serving in the military, according to the Department of Defense. It is estimated that the U.S. Army has more than 900,000 military children with one or both parents having deployed multiple times.

Since "Month of the Military Child" began in 1986, children have been recognized by staff and leaders through a variety of fun and exciting events.

"The parade was the largest and the most colorful one we've had," said Amarys Martinez, CDC director. She said children colored their class banners, which were designed with a "character counts" theme. "They've been very excited and involved. For days, they've been practicing a song for the ceremony."

Musicians from the Savannah Arts Academy also performed at the event.

"We wanted the community to come together for the kickoff," Martinez said, adding that the final event will be equally grand.

"We'll have a carnival with inflatables and other neat things on the CDC grounds, along with a picnic. Hopefully, we'll escape the rain, just like we did today."