by Jim Knotts
President and CEO of Operation Homefront.
With April as Month of the Military Child and our signature Military Child of the Year™ (MCOY) program just completed – there’s no better time to pause and reflect on the unique challenges of being a military kid today – and why our focus on them is so important to what we do here at Operation Homefront.
We see firsthand in our work that the strains of more than 13 years of war have exacted a toll on not just those who serve, but the family members who stand with them in service. We also know that a number of research efforts have been completed in the past several years trying to quantify the impact and catalog the challenges confronting military kids.
A Child Trends Research Brief, Homefront Alert: The Risks Facing Young Children in Military Families, published last year found that the composition of military families today is very different than thirty years ago. Today, about half of active-duty service members are parents, compared to just 15 percent in the Vietnam era – most of whom were officers. And significantly, the report noted that of two million children under the age of 18 with an active-duty parent, 500,000 of those are children under the age of 6. So at a time when our country has been fighting its longest sustained war, the stresses associated with military life are falling on an increasingly young military child population.
As children deal with life without their deployed parent and help the other parent along in the process, it creates family stress. A RAND Corporation study conducted throughout 2008 and 2009 found that 30 percent of the youth surveyed reported elevated anxiety levels, as compared with 15 percent of non-military youth. They face a burden that non-military children do not, and many of those non-military children cannot understand what it’s like for the military children, which creates additional stress in an already difficult situation.
I highlight this research because when you think of military kids, and the programs supporting them and military families, the importance of our work is all too abundantly clear. Whether it’s Back-to-School Brigade™, or Holiday Toy Drive, we seek to normalize where possible what we know are demands that military kids and families face that are often precipitated by service to country. And all kids, no matter their background or their parents’ occupation, deserve the chance to realize their full potential.
As we near the end of the Month of the Military Child, Operation Homefront will continue to deliver at the highest level with the programs and services we provide to this most deserving group of young patriots, and, continually look for ways we can help break down barriers that might impede their progress in realizing their dreams.
If you haven’t already, read the bios of this year’s MCOY award recipients. They truly are amazing and inspirational. If you’re like me, you can’t help but feel humbled by their tremendous achievements. Meeting this exemplary group of young people each year always inspires me to re-double my efforts and recommit to our mission, and I hope you too are spurred to action to do whatever you can in support of military kids and military families.