First Lady Gets Update on Challenges Facing Military Youth

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, Md., Dec. 5, 2007 - First lady Laura Bush attended a special event here today to learn about challenges facing military youth and to let them know they're not forgotten.

"We need to get the word out to children of all of our military families, (that) we know you do serve also, and (of) the sacrifices you make with your parents gone for a long part of your childhood. We want military kids to know we are aware of that," Bush said during the special "Helping America's Youth" event at the base youth center.

"We (also) know that if children have caring adults in their lives, they're more likely to make wise decisions for their own lives," the first lady said.

"And when your parents are deployed, it's really important that other caring adults have an opportunity to step in and help young people while their parents are away," she continued, adding that she knows many do have that benefit.

Helping America's Youth is a nationwide effort to raise awareness about the challenges facing the nation's youth and to motivate caring adults to connect with youth in the areas of family, school and community.

Dr. Stephen Cozza, professor of psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University, told the audience that military kids have just as tough and important a job as their parents do. Despite that, they're resilient, he said.

"We need to remember, first and foremost, that they are generally a healthy and capable group of youngsters who possess strengths that are at least equal to their civilian counterparts," said Cozza, who also serves as the associate director for the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress. He went on to note that certain events and situations can cause increased stress on military children.

Combat deployments tax even the healthiest families, and multiple deployments even more so, he said. The combat experience itself can affect servicemembers, and consequently their children, upon the parent's return to the family.

"During wartime, servicemembers often witness and participate in violent and destructive acts that fall outside the realm of the typical human experience," Cozza said. "Combat can lead to neurobiological and psychological consequences that don't simply disappear when they return home."

These issues can be as benign as the common cold or much more serious, he said. Open discussion can help families and children better understand the changes they may see in their parents.

"Our community programs should be knowledgeable about child and family responses to deployment and reintegration challenges, and should be comfortable referring troubled service or family members to health care facilities when appropriate," he said.

Brooke Borelli, 12, the daughter of Air Force Col. Elizabeth Borelli of the 11th Operations Group at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., knows well the challenges of being a military child. hen she's switched schools in the middle of the school year, she said, she often finds she may be ahead in one subject but behind in another. Perhaps the biggest challenge came when her mother was deployed to Iraq.

It was tough when her mom didn't come home every day and she couldn't have individual time with her, Brooke said. But the situation came with its own benefits. She reached out to her family and community and filled her mother's deployments with activities.

"I think it's made me a better person for doing it," Brooke said. "I've learned to be more independent and stable on my own."

Shanice Gaddy, 17, also knows what it means to be part of a military family. Her mother, District of Colombia Army National Guard Master Sgt. Jacqueline Whitney, was deployed to Iraq for a little more than a year just as her daughter was starting high school.

Shanice said not having her mom there as she charted that new territory was a struggle, but National Guard programs helped her shake feelings of sadness and loneliness.

"I discovered that they had National Guard youth programs," Gaddy said. "Then I started to feel better, because I felt as though people were there for me."

And using resources like the National Guard youth programs is exactly what the first lady encouraged families to do if they feel they may need help, said Barbara Thompson, director of the Office of Family Policy/Children and Youth, a part of the Office of the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.

"Mrs. Bush gave a very powerful message when she mentioned to military families that if they need help, they should reach out and seek help through programs and support systems," she said. "I think she sets the tone for the nation in telling the nation that military children also serve and they sacrifice and we should take good care of them as a nation."

That's easier, thanks to the many resources available to military children and families; however the programs are good only if they're accessible, Thompson said.

She said Mrs. Bush heard about the importance of addressing needs of military children who are geographically separated from a military installation, and consequently are far way from the resources located there.

"We're a great organization. We have a lot of programs at every one of our installations, but we can't do it alone," Thompson said. "We need the expertise, and we need the ability to reach out to the larger community to ensure all children's needs are met."

The first lady also heard from organizations such as the Armed Services YMCA, the National Military Family Association, and Boys and Girls Clubs of America, which are reaching out to the overall community to ensure all military children have resources available.

Armed Services YMCA and the National Military Family Association are both supporters of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.

*Related Sites:*
Helping America's Youth  [ ]
Armed Services YMCA  [ ]
National Military Family Association  [ ]
First Lady Gets Update on Challenges Facing Military Youth [ ]