FORT LEE, Va. – Well over 200 community members participated in a first-time 5K Color Run for Autism Awareness here Saturday. The Child and Youth Services-hosted event also brought recognition to April’s Month of the Military Child observance.
Garrison Commander Col. Karin L. Watson and Command Sgt. Maj. Tamisha A Love, garrison CSM, were among the event’s enthusiastic supporters. Kenner Army Health Clinic partnered with CYS for the occasion, capitalizing on the opportunity to distribute wellness information and conduct blood pressure checks. Army Community Service representatives also shared details about their programs and learning opportunities.
“What an exciting day this is,” said Watson during a brief pause in her march through the assembly area to greet participants and thank supporting staff. “It’s a wonderful show of support for our military children who are special in so many ways.”
Sharing her views about the overall MOMC observance, Watson said it is an opportunity to recognize the challenges military children face and celebrate their strength and resiliency.
“Take a moment to think about what they go through,” she proposed. “It’s the frequent moves to new duty stations and not having mom or dad at home because of a deployment or temporary duty assignment. … Here at Fort Lee, the parent may be a drill sergeant or instructor with long duty days that limit their time at home. We understand how hard that can be on a child and family, and we want them to know it’s a sacrifice that’s recognized and appreciated.”
During remarks at a livestreamed MOMC kickoff ceremony the day prior, Watson shared a story about her own children that exemplified the moxie of military kids.
“We recently completed Operation Allies Refuge and Allies Welcome, and they were some very long days they had me coming home completely exhausted,” Watson recalled. “My daughter, knowing I was tired, would go ahead and make dinner for us. She would pull up Google to find a recipe using whatever I had pulled out of the freezer that morning to defrost. After some tweaks here and there, she came up with some really great meals. She stepped up to do that on her own.”
One could safely assume there are many such stories in the community; not necessarily about kids cooking dinner, but demonstrating strong moral character and inspirational fortitude.
“I’m really proud of my children,” Watson summarized at the kickoff event. “I’m really proud of your children. I’m proud of (the entire Team Lee) family. I’m also proud of the CYS staff who do an amazing job of taking care of our children. At Fort Lee, we want to continue reminding our kids that they are part of the larger Army family and we are here for them, just as we are here for you.”
Family and MWR Director Jamie Hawkins also was among the garrison leaders present at the Color Run. Like Watson, he grew up in a military home and said the Army of yesterday did little to anything in the way of family recognition.
“There definitely weren’t any events like this when I was growing up,” he said. “It’s so exciting to see this change in our culture. Families are part of who we are as an Army. They make a difference in our lives and the mission.”
He glanced out at the families and youngsters accumulating near the start line of the race as he continued the thought.
“This is our future,” he shared. “Among our CYS kids is the next MWR director, the next command sergeant major, the next garrison commander. These are the children we’re raising to be the thinkers and leaders of the future. That’s an enormous responsibility and it serves as motivation to provide the most well-guided and best structured youth services program possible. We do the best we can to make sure that happens.”
Following the 5K – there was an optional 2-mile walk as well - CYS Director Tamara Johnson highlighted upcoming MOMC events. They include “Spirit Days” throughout the month; a “Wear Red Day” for deployed troops every Friday; a Virtual Military Teen Summit set for April 21-22; a Virtual College and Career Fair for teens April 28; a family movie night at the Lee Theater the evening of April 29 and much more. Each CDC also has facility specific activities planned.
“For CYS, this is the most exciting month of the year,” Johnson emphasized as her final thought. “MOMC brings the community together in a celebration of these children who persevere through the many challenges of military life. They are like dandelions who keep growing no matter where they go. I take my inspiration from them, and appreciate this opportunity to put them in the daylight and say thank you for supporting your parents and this community.”
As for what it means to be the person in charge of the Fort Lee program that cares for military kids, Johnson enthusiastically stated, “I’m living the dream, man.”
“I’m doing something I love, and I get to work with other adults whose passion is children as well,” she elaborated. “There are occasional challenges, and that’s to be expected because of being entrusted with a military family’s most prized possession. Our focus, though, is to make sure we get it right so our service member parents don’t have to worry about their kids and they can focus on the mission. Every now and then, I sit back and realize, ‘wow, what an enormous responsibility.’ Where I find confidence is knowing we’ll always get it right if we do it with love and pride.”