Almost 20 years ago, I met Jamie, a 15-year-old living on base at Quantico with his three younger siblings, mom and dad, who was a Marine Corps major and test pilot. Jamie was a typical 15-year-old. He loved to play "war" with the other boys, did fairly well in school but struggled with math, left his bike in the driveway and had to be reminded to come in from playing when it got dark.
Jamie also has Down syndrome, and attended Quantico High School, which, at the time, did not have the robust special education program it has today, so the other kids helped Jamie where they could. What made Jamie remarkable was how unremarkable he was, meaning, whether it was doing homework together or including him in sports, Jamie was just one of the crowd.
I also know 16-year-old triplet girls who, at two years old, learned that if they all ran in different directions, Mommy couldn't catch them. Mommy is my friend Claire Woodward, who was pregnant at the time and her husband was deployed. Yes, Claire had her work cut out for her.
Side by side, the Woodward sisters and brother learned to embrace multiple moves, leaving friends behind, long road trips and the myriad challenges that go with military life.
A few years back, Claire and the four kids came to visit us in Annapolis. They were driving from Florida to Pennsylvania and back, visiting friends along the way. Five people traveling 1,800 miles in a small Prius, and they had a ball. I don't know about you, but being shoulder to shoulder with my siblings was generally the start of Olympic-level bickering, that included the time-honored emphatic, "She's touching me!" as you're just pulling out of the driveway.
There have been significant challenges along the way, but the resilience that often comes with being military children took over to resolve whatever issues they faced and still face. Over the years, I've had the privilege of knowing many military children. Though each of these children are unique, they all have one thing in common — their inner compass always seeks resilience. No matter their age or situation, these children learn to adapt as they face numerous moves and deployments.
Military children exhibit pride in their parents' service and often take on additional duties during deployments. In this way, they serve our country too, with strength and bravery. Childhood can be challenging, and for military children, their nomadic childhood demands even more.
April is the Month of the Military Child. It's the time for our country to recognize the strengths and sacrifices of our military children.
Taking the time to let families know that we as a country look to create strong communities of support for military children is important. Could you be a mentor to a child whose parent is deployed? Can you befriend a military spouse dealing with a deployment and in need of parenting advice? All of us have talents and something to give, even if it's simply a word of thanks. Our actions do not need to be grand to make a difference. If you live near an installation, volunteering at a planned appreciation event this month would be a great way to help.
Military families need our encouragement. Whether it's a simple thank you or an elaborate celebration in their honor, they need to know that our country is here for them. Celebrate the Month of the Military Child with all of us and let military children and their families know how much they are valued.
To learn more about the Month of the Military Child, or for creative ways to show your appreciation, visit Military OneSource. You can also join the conversation and follow the celebration on the Military OneSource Facebook page.
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