Recently, over 2,800 Iowa Army National Guard soldiers left home for a scheduled year-long deployment to Afghanistan. This has been called the largest Iowa National Guard deployment since World War II. The nearly 30 public send-off ceremonies took place across Iowa from July 30th to August 9th.
How large of an impact does this have on our local communities? According to Brigadier General Timothy E. Orr, Adjutant General, Iowa National Guard, "When we deploy a battalion, we touch anywhere from 270 to 290 communities. This brigade will deploy, and they will cover almost every community in the state of Iowa."
With that many families impacted by this deployment, what activities and programs are available to support our neighbors, friends, and community members as their fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sons, or daughters are called to duty?
One program that Iowa State University Extension has been involved with is "Operation: Military Kids" (OMK). This is a collaborative effort with the U.S. Army and America's communities to support the children and youth impacted by deployment. OMK's mission is to "increase community capacity to support youth of military families."
"Iowa's Operation: Military Kids (OMK) initiative builds communication networks and trusting relationships between Iowa State University Extension, military families, military family program staff, youth leaders, schools, veterans, and community organizations to provide positive youth development programs and community based support for children and families impacted by the increased mobilization and deployment of troops to fight in the Global War on Terrorism. OMK includes as key partners military kids and families who share their stories and actively participate in the project to improve the quality of life of other military families."
OMK and partner agencies provide free training and resources to school districts and communities to help them develop community capacity to support children and Military Families affected before, during and after deployment. Training includes understanding how the deployment cycle affects children during the different phases of deployment, identifying stress reactions and intervention strategies designed to mitigate psychosocial stress caused by deployment, and how to access and use resources to build community-based support networks.
"Multiple deployments put many children at risk," according to Chris Gleason, Iowa Operation: Military Kids Project Director. "Iowa soldiers have a mission to focus on, and they can do that more effectively when they know that their children are safe and supported in their schools and communities. One parent told me she wanted her children to thrive, not just survive, during deployment. Schools and communities have the capacity to make that happen -- and OMK and our partners can provide the resources to make that happen."
Military families and others who would like more information about Operation: Military Kids may find information online at http://www.operationmilitarykids.org or http://www.extension.iastate.edu/4H/omk/ or they may contact one of Iowa's 100 local county Extension offices.