By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterDecember 6, 2012
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (December 6, 2012) -- Deployments are hard on military Family members, but trying new experiences can help Families cope with the separation.
That's what 4H and Operation Military Kids did for 15-year-old Megan and 12-year-old Alexis Matthews, whose father is currently serving overseas in Kuwait, according to Marian Clemmons, 4H extension agent and OMK liaison.
"We want to try and keep children from being depressed and keep their minds off of a Family member being overseas," said Clemmons.
The girls participated in different events, such as: the Southeast Regional Outdoor Sports Day at the Mabson Community Education Forest in Ozark, where the girls got to shoot air rifles, participate in archery and learn about wildlife; and the National Peanut Festival, where they got the opportunity to participate in photography and chicken showing competitions.
"It's been a lot of fun. We get to learn new stuff all the time and meet new people, and have different experiences," said Megan. "[4H] has really kept us busy and has helped make time go by faster."
"Since our dad is deployed right now, [having these organizations] takes our minds of the fact that he's deployed for a while and gives us a chance to have different experiences with different friends and Families," added Alexis.
The sisters got involved with the chicken showing after Megan entered a photography contest in which she won two blue ribbons.
"Last year, we met with [Marian's Family] while they were showing their chickens, and we thought it was really cool," said Megan. "When we found out this year that we could get involved in it, we decided we wanted to do it, and that's what really sparked our 4H interest."
Clemmons said the sisters showed a real interest in showing the chickens at the peanut festival so they began the search to find the girls some chickens, which they found in Florida.
"The girls came out to one of the Geneva County 4H meetings and there was a girl from Florida who had two chickens, Old English Bantams, for sale," she said. "My son, Seth, actually bought the chickens for the girls and they came out to our house to start practicing with them."
In order to be ready to show chickens at the festival, Megan and Alexis had to learn general and extensive knowledge about the chickens. The girls had to learn things like parts of the chicken, diseases that chickens are susceptible to, and how to properly handle the chickens.
"Showing chickens is absolutely crazy," said Clemmons. "My kids show cows, and what we do with the cows is nothing compared to what these girls had to do and learn in just a few short weeks."
During the competition, participants had to go through three different stages, during which they were asked questions about their chickens and were made to show how to properly handle the animals.
"It was a lot of fun because we don't really get to handle different kinds of animals like that," said Alexis. "It was just really cool to do it and spend time with the chickens."
"The girls were put through the ringer," said Clemmons. "This was their first time showing chickens and they're going against children that have been doing this for years, but I just knew they were going to blow everybody away because they worked so hard at it."
Megan placed second in the competition and Alexis placed tenth, which Clemmons said was impressive considering their competition.
"We brought 52 chickens to the show, and for Megan to place second and Alexis to place tenth in such a large group of children just made me so pleased," she said.
The real prize, however, wasn't about ribbons or who had the best chicken, said Clemmons, but about and experience to share.
"This gives them something that they get to be proud of," she said. "I know they get to talk to and see their [father] through [video chat], but doing something like this gives them something to talk about -- not just something to talk about but something new to talk about.
"You're bringing something new in, so they get to share a new experience with their dad that he didn't already know about," she continued. "It's good for the parent that is serving overseas just as much as it is for the child sharing the experience."
These are the types of experiences that Clemmons said that 4H and OMK want to provide children on Fort Rucker.
Clemmons said 4H used to only offer activities for livestock, sewing and cooking, but the organization has moved beyond that to accommodate more interests.
"This isn't your mother's or your grandmother's 4H anymore," she said. "We're trying to step into the new generation and reach out to them with different things."
For more information about 4H or Operation Military Kid, call 400-2843, or 898-0003.