There is a little girl in my church who carries a single doll with her everywhere she goes. It’s faded. It’s fraying along the edges. It’s easy to tell it was hand-sewn, but it was made with more love than the most expensive toy in the world.
It’s a plain, white lumpy doll with a photo of her daddy in his Army uniform ironed across the front. She hugs daddy during service. She leaves daddy waiting on the playground while she hops and jumps with the other kids. Occasionally, she drops daddy on the ground when the cookies are passed out during Sunday school.
But in this small way, even while daddy is deployed thousands of miles away, she can have him with her.
Most military kids these days have a daddy (or mommy) doll tucked away somewhere, even if they won’t admit it to their friends. Being a military kid can be tough and having this doll, even if he or she is only made of cotton, can ease the pain of a rough day. And military kids have a lot of rough days.
In the last ten years, the role of the military child has changed, drastically. Military kids have always lived a nomadic lifestyle, moving from base to base. Lifelong friendships are rare. They never get to stay in their schools or a favorite activity for very long. But since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began, many military children have begun losing their childhoods altogether.
Their mothers and fathers have been deployed, repeatedly. The children have had to take on new rolls in their households: babysitting siblings, cleaning and cooking. The spouse left at home may lean on them emotionally as well. Without their newfound maturity, the household might crumble. And in the worst cases, when daddy or mommy never come home or return severely injured, the children become the caregiver for the adults.
When Willie Banks’ father died, he was only a toddler. Now, at age 10, Willie tries his best to carry out the convictions of his father, an Army major. Willie volunteers at church, school and on the athletic field. When his mother deployed to Iraq, he helped care for his younger sister.
When Brittany Wallace’s father was severely injured in Iraq, she, then age 17, took over as head of the household while her mother tended to his rehabilitation. Brittany played mother to her two younger siblings and helped them with their school work, cleaned the house and made meals – all while keeping up her own grades at school.
Military kids have it tough. But they have also proven to be some of the strongest, brightest kids around. They make new friends. They step up to the challenges and often perform better than some adults who crumble under the same pressures.
That is why Operation Homefront is proud to recognize and honor the strength, courage and achievements of our warriors’ children. This week, Operation Homefront kicks off the third annual Military Child of the Year Award. Both Brittany and Willie were honored in 2009 and 2010, respectively. This year, the contest is open to all branches of the military, including the Coast Guard.
Do you know a military child who shines? Nominate them for Operation Homefront’s 2011 Military Child of the Year Award. For more information, please visit www.operationhomefront.net/mcoy