Two California teenagers are honoring National Guard parents who have had travel to overseas locations or natural disasters at home in a project they have named "Sisterhood of the Traveling BDUs."
BDUs is military shorthand for the battle-dress uniform. The goal of the project -- inspired by the 2005 movie "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," in which four girlfriends develop a plan to stay connected -- is to bring military daughters from across California together to share their experiences as military family members. Moranda Hern, 17, daughter of Air Force Lt. Col. Rick Hern of the 144th Fighter Wing, and Kaylei Deakin, 16, daughter of Army Maj. Lorren Deakin of the 578th Engineer Battalion, plan to host a Military Girls Conference in Clovis, Calif., March 12 to 14. They hope 400 teens and 100 female servicemembers will attend the event. "The conference will bring dependent girls from all [military] units in California together and link them ... to share all of their experiences," Deakin said. The teenagers said they hope to help other servicemembers' daughters by sharing their own experiences. Hern and Deakin grew up differently, but connected as friends with common experiences, they said, which is what they want to show others through the project. "At the conference, we want to connect on a deep level with our sisters by removing the mask and being a teenage girl," Hern said. Their experience as daughters in National Guard families is the teenagers' common bond. They met at a National Guard Bureau symposium in St. Louis last year, and together they realized they had similar experiences as Guard children. For example, they noted, they did not live on a base like other military children, but they still dealt with a parent leaving on deployments or for natural disasters. They put their thoughts and feelings together, they recalled, and started realizing that they could make a difference in each other's lives and that they were feeling real emotions. They helped each other grow, get better grades and build each other's self-esteem. Once they focused their energy toward building positive experiences as daughters of servicemembers, they said, they found more opportunities. Last fall, Hern and Deakin briefed their Military Girls conference ideas to Air Force Brig. Gen. Mary J. Kight, California's assistant adjutant general, and Leslie Wade, wife of Army Maj. Gen. William H. Wade II, the state's adjutant general. In April, at the Adjutant General's Symposium on Family Readiness in Burlingame, Calif., the teenagers tugged on the audience's heart strings as they briefed their plans for next year's conference. As a part of the briefing, they shared their childhood experiences as the daughters of Guard members. Noting how family separation can affect families, they said they struggled with their grades and self-image, but added that although their experiences sometimes were troubling, they also could be positive and full of opportunity. Deakin received the National Teen Leadership Program's National Teen Leadership Award for spearheading an after-school club for military children at her high school, and Hern was honored with the Air National Guard Youth of the Year award. Now, they said, they want to continue making a difference by sharing how being a military child has opened up opportunities for them. Topics for discussion at the "Sisterhood" conference will include college applications, self-defense, making decisions and setting goals. After the conference, Hern and Deakin said, they plan to use social networking tools such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to maintain the bonds they expect to grow at the conference. They also plan to travel throughout California to interview military daughters for a video production, and they said they'd like to create public service announcements about military children.
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