The family with seven children knew communication and team-building activities at the Operation: Military Kids (OMK) camp near Centennial would help them be more resilient during the father’s deployment.
The teenager from southeastern Wyoming attending a 7 Habits for Highly Effective Teens event realized other teens across the state were experiencing the same stresses.
Events next week and in April across Wyoming recognize sacrifices made by militaryfamilies and their children. Not heavily promoted, OMK gives families and especially youths tools to be resilient during a deployment but also during reintegration of the family upon a parent’s return.
OMK supports children of deployed soldiers from all branches of the military including National Guard and Reserve. Regulations restrict military identification of families.
“We know there are military families in every county,” said Eloise Riley, OMK coordinator based in Laramie County. “It’s becoming a challenge to find them in the counties that are far from southeast Wyoming.”
Riley said about 5,000 military sons and daughters are in Wyoming, but that number doesn’t include extended family relationships such as siblings or aunts and uncles deployed.
Those deployed can wrestle financial stresses upon return or post traumatic stress disorder and its affects not only upon them but family members.
Riley said studies have found bringing family members together after a deployment is becoming a concern. OMK offers resources for the family, activities to help build family relationships and organizes events such as camps for children and adults.
“The most common remark after attending an event is that they were so glad they came and met others going through the same struggles,” said Riley.
A rally at the Cheyenne Depot 6-8 p.m. Monday, March 31, shows support for Wyoming military youths, and April 15 is Purple Up! Day. Purple combines all the colors of the branches of service.
“Residents are encouraged to wear purple to show support for our military youths,” said Riley. April events in each county are at http://bit.ly/omkevents.
OMK Wyoming is part of the Wyoming 4-H program through UW Extension.
Military children look the same to teachers, friends and the community after a parent deploys, but their lives have changed dramatically, said Johnathan Despain, state 4-H director.
“We want to help them connect with other youths in similar situations and to use the Operation: Military Kids and 4-H Military Partnership initiatives as a way to link with other youths in the community,” he said.
OMK is not just for the sons and daughters of military families.
“Deployment and the return home of troops affects a lot of people,” said Mary Louise Wood, extension 4-H educator in Albany County. “It could be an aunt or uncle. It may be their soccer coach or their favorite teacher. Wyoming is just a small town with really long streets, and what happens to one person touches so many.”