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National Discussion Addresses Needs of Military Children

06.26.2013, by Susan Conolly

When he learned that his dad, an Air Force officer, was being deployed to Afghanistan, Joshua Leonard knew he had to "step up and take charge," filling the family shoes his father left behind. That meant taking on chores his dad used to do - changing headlights in the family car, helping his Mom with housework, fixing bikes for his little brother - along with schoolwork and sports at Falcon High in Colorado Springs, CO. That pressure would challenge most adults, but for Josh and nearly 2 million kids with at least one parent serving in the military, it's a stark reality.

"I wasn't a replacement for my dad," Josh says, "but I still wanted to keep life as close to normal as possible."

Kids like Josh will join Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, and Pentagon leaders for the Military Child Education Coalition 15th Training Seminar at the Gaylord National Hotel & Convention Center in suburban Washington, July 8-9.  The goal: work with leading national experts in child development, education and health to support the nation's youngest heroes: children who serve on the home front.
Military kids today face extraordinary stress at a young age: saying goodbye to one or both parents on repeat combat deployments; dealing with a parent who has come home wounded; or coping with a parent who didn't come home at all. Those grown-up situations can come early: 78 percent of military kids are age 11 or younger, and nearly 40 percent have seen a parent head to war. 

That's on top the usual facts of life for most military kids -- adjusting to a new town or city and a new school every two years, for example -- while handling the usual changes of growing up. That leaves them vulnerable to depression and anxiety that can trigger behavior problems and learning difficulties.

For Josh, however, the juggling act -- school, helping out at home, sports, and a social life -- helped make him and his family even stronger. Like many military kids, he rose to the challenge, learning what it takes to be a leader in the process."It really opened my eyes," Josh says. "A good leader is someone who looks for ways to serve others and reach their common goals by working hard together."