By Ms. Kristen Marquez (IMCOM)May 27, 2009
HEIDELBERG, Germany -- For sixth-grader Chelsea Shivers' most recent birthday, she and her mom threw an "American Hero" theme party so she could be just like her father, who was deployed at the time.
The kids dressed in uniforms and Kevlar helmets and took home little Army-themed party favors.
At Heidelberg Middle School May 19, Chelsea and other classmates with deployed or recently redeployed parents got another chance to be like their Soldier parents - by participating in "Kids' Boot Camp."
At boot camp, the 60 students from grades six through eight ate from a buffet line of meals ready to eat, had their faces painted in camouflage, and watched demonstrations from combat medics and military working dogs. They put on body armor and Kevlar helmets, sat inside several different Army vehicles and even did some physical training - including push-ups, side-straddle hops and different types of stretching.
"I think it's really good because it shows the kids, it puts them in an experience that their parents have been through and it really shows them what their parents are doing," Chelsea said as she chowed down on MRE food like spicy cheese spread and a strawberry drink. "A lot of times they'll be like, 'I don't know what my dad's doing, but he's out there just doing something.'"
Soldiers from V Corps, Heidelberg Medical Department Activity, 529th Military Police Company and U.S. Army Garrison Heidelberg volunteered their time to set up different stations for the students to rotate through.
"I think it gives them an insight into what their parents do," Chelsea's mom Cherie Shivers said. "Just the food alone is kind of cool that they see how their parents eat.
Cherie said her family has been through seven deployments with her husband, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Robert Shivers, now an Ordnance Officer with 30th Medical Command. He returned in November from his most recent tour downrange with the 405th Field Support Battalion.
"It's neat that they get to experience what they would experience downrange," Cherie said. "Carrying a person, to offer first aid and know that you could be possibly saving a life. It's fun and games, but they're learning a skill even though it's fun and games."
Chelsea admitted that sometimes she wants to be like her dad and become a Soldier herself, but sometimes, especially when he's deployed, she changes her mind.
She said the kids' boot camp would help her talk to her dad a little bit more about the job he does in the Army since she's now experienced a little bit of it up close and personal.
One of the event's organizers, Lana Barshinger, said overall it was a huge success. Walking around the event, she said she could hear lots of excitement from the children as they participated.
"I walked around and every station they were very excited, they were listening, they were asking questions, so I think that they learned a lot," she said. "I think everyone is walking away with something new that maybe they didn't know before."
This is the first time in approximately 15 years that anyone can remember doing a kids' boot camp at HMS.
"We really wanted to focus on the safety of their parents," Barshinger said. "We didn't want it to be the guns, although that's very much a part of (deployment). It was more 'what is life like for them'' Let them know that their parents are safe."
Barshinger said the community really pulled together to help make this event a success for the students.
"That was one of the best things about how this worked out," she said. "Lynn Mattingly, the school counselor, called me and had been trying to get this going, so I said of course we'll help. As we started, HMEDDAC came in, (Army Community Service) came in, even Club Beyond. So we were able to draw many people together. There are several different organizations that have been out here. I think it's good for us to do more of these events."
Having dad home again means the Shivers family can get back to normal for a little while. Going through seven deployments with four children in the family has been tough, according to Cherie, especially as they get older.
"I always say when they're younger I think it's so much easier," she said. "I find that they are usually more attached to their parents as they get older where they're dependent on them, especially middle school and freshman year, even though they are pushing their parents away, they still need them and want them."
Cherie said having three girls who are "daddy's girls" has caused them to miss out on some things, but still have time for things like daddy-daughter dates where dad could help them learn how to date.
"I think for them it was harder as they were older," she said. "They express their emotions so clearly. When they're younger, you just know they're grumpy, you can pacify them with a Popsicle or whatever, but when they're bigger, you can't pacify them. So, I think as a parent, it was more difficult to be two people, and I'm not."
For Chelsea, she's just glad her "American Hero" dad, who has been deployed four times in her lifetime, is back home with them for now.
(Editor's Note: Kristen Marquez writes for the USAG Baden-WAfA1/4rttemberg newspaper, the Herald Post.)