FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – Families traveled the parade route by car, passing colorful displays and costumed characters as employees from across the installation cheered the children for their strength and resilience.
“The Month of the Military Child is about celebrating military children who grow up differently from other children,” said Stacye Downing, director of Fort Campbell’s Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation. “Their parents come and go, they change schools, homes and friends – they are absolutely worthy of a monthlong recognition, and this event just helps us remind them of how special and important they are.”
Fort Campbell MWR organized the event as a reverse parade for the second year in a row to keep attendees safe from COVID-19. They also added Exceptional Family Member Program, or EFMP, Golden Tickets, so children who are prone to sensory overload could arrive early and enjoy the festivities.
Zoe Shive, 9, was selected through a random drawing to be the EFMP group’s grand marshal, making her the first child to travel the parade route.
“Coming from her background with the EFMP as well as being a child of a service member, she was very excited to have the spotlight on her for a little bit,” said Zoe’s mother Nicole Reilly.
“I think Kidsfest is great, because military children have to sacrifice a lot for their parents being on active duty, and for them to be recognized means a lot,” she said.
Zoe wasn’t the only child excited about Kidsfest, and the organizations involved enjoyed greeting each of them as they passed by.
“The energy’s been great,” said Lindsey White, executive director, Armed Services YMCA Fort Campbell. “The kids are so excited. They’re all dressed up in their costumes and they know this is for them, so it’s amazing to see them realize they’re being celebrated.”
Organizations like the ASYMCA and Army Community Service, or ACS, also attended to raise awareness of their services, which help military Families.
“We try to make ACS as kid-friendly as possible,” said Erika Williams, ACS outreach program coordinator. “It’s very important for us to let the community of Fort Campbell know that ACS is here, we are ‘Kid Strong’ and if there’s something those Families need from us, we are there to reach out and help.”
Bringing the Fort Campbell community together helps show military children how much support they have, said 1st Sgt. Christopher Weeks, 2nd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne). His daughter Aliana, 14, is representing Fort Campbell in the Military Youth of the Year competition and served as the 2021 Kidsfest’s grand marshal.
“Ali loved it, and she felt very special about doing something that’s bigger than her in the grand scheme of things,” Weeks said. “Building the community is important too and having this kind of event helps people get to know each other and get away from being stuck in their homes.”
Downing said several Families and employees took advantage of the opportunity to celebrate the post’s military children.
“It’s an absolutely phenomenal turnout,” she said. “Families are so appreciative of this event, and so many of them have made sure to say thank you. I think it’s important, especially during a time of worldwide pandemic, that we keep some normalcy going and it’s just wonderful to have a great turn out for all the staff’s time and energy on this special celebration of our military kids.”