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Children share experiences at family deployment training

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Shanda L. De Anda
  • Air Force Reserve Command Public Affairs
Tyler Ceccato, the 10-year-old son of two Air Force Reservists, relies on his enjoyment of video games to help pass the time when either of his parents deploys. He and other children of GIs shared tips about coping with the absence of a mother or father during a military training session in late November.

"Do something that's really fun for you to try to keep your mind off [the deployment] like play with your friends or play video games ... I play video games when I get nervous," said Tyler, son of Chief Master Sgt. Jamie Cornelia and Master Sgt. Kara Cornelia, both from Moody AFB, Georgia. "I would just say you might as well not even worry about it because you know they're coming back - it's not like they're leaving you forever."

During group discussions, children at the Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon event colorfully described the objectionable situations deployments sometimes cause. Yellow Ribbon promotes the well-being of reservists and their families by connecting them with resources before and after deployments. The program began in 2008 following a congressional mandate for the Department of Defense to assist reservists and National Guard members in maintaining resiliency as they transition between their military and civilian roles.

"It was helpful from the standpoint of understanding my rights and entitlements as a veteran and it was a great place to reconnect with family in a fun place," Maj. Patrick Simmons said about the training, which he attended with his wife and their 2-year-old and 4-month-old daughters. Simmons returned to Robins AFB, Georgia, in June from a deployment to Afghanistan.

To help assist the youths in conversation and personal sharing, program coordinators used a tailored approach with youngsters, who were divided into age groups of 6 to 9 years old, 10 to 12 and 13 to 18.

"The best part of being in this class is probably meeting some of my dad's friends' children and playing with them. I have made a lot of friends ... about four friends," said Mariah Hanlon, 8, daughter of Tech. Sgt. Bradley Hanlon, a Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, Texas, reservist who recently returned from overseas duty. "He has deployed before, but this one was really hard because I've grown up and I've realized what it actually is."

Many children agreed the most valuable things about Yellow Ribbon were spending time with their parents, making new friends and being able to talk about what they were going through with other Air Force Reserve children in similar situations.

Alexia Crim, 11, daughter of Capt. Bobbi Nye, Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station, Pennsylvania, said she will miss her mother during an upcoming deployment even though she knows she can rely on her stepfather at home.

"This is my first time really being separated from her," said the sixth grader. "I think that being here around other kids who have their parents deployed helps because they have the same feelings. Some of them, their parents have already deployed before so they already know what it's like."

Teenagers in the group, even those who were more seasoned, also found value in the camaraderie.

"You feel good with other people because they can relate to you - it's not like at school where there aren't a lot of people whose families are in the military," said Bryan Reyes, 16, son of Senior Airman Lawrence Mojica, a Hill AFB, Utah, reservist. "My dad has deployed maybe three times, and it's hard when he deploys. I am the oldest, and I have to fill his shoes. It's a hard responsibility for me."

The Yellow Ribbon school-aged curriculum helped ease some of the apprehension by creating an open, safe environment to share feelings. As the children of parents who are deployment veterans talked about what worked for them, they helped illustrate many of the resiliency tools discussed by group leaders.

"The number one thing is to be calm and don't be mad or don't get angry because that's only going to make it worse on the people deploying and you don't want your mom or dad, whoever is deployed, to not sleep because they're worried about something going wrong (at home)," said Bryan, an 11th grader. "This can easily fix or help solve most of the situations."

In addition to finding ways to keep calm, children also recommended finding a distraction that works best for them. One of the teenagers, whose father has deployed several times, insisted on keeping it simple.

"Sleep. Sleep a lot - time passes if you just sleep," said Kaycie Carty, 15, daughter of Senior Airman Dennis Carty of Hill AFB.

For others, spending more time with the remaining parent, guardian or caregiver worked best.

"I was a little bit sad when my dad was in Afghanistan, but I usually helped my Mom with chores [to stay busy]," said Elijah Hanlon, 6, son of Sergeant Hanlon and brother of Mariah Hanlon.

Even with the challenges deployments may present, children of reservists at the Florida training said they are proud of what their parents do in the military and understand the importance of deployments. They were also grateful for the time to spend with their parents at the Yellow Ribbon event.

"Deployments are important to help serve over there and make sure everything is good and everything stays in order," said Alexia Crim. "I like what my Mom does in the Air Force and here I can visit her. I think it's cool because not every child can be like one of these children."

Eight-year-old Antonio Brown agrees with her.

"I want people to know that my Mom helps our country so that nothing bad will happen to (it)," said Antonio, son of Staff Sgt. Celia Arias, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. "When you deploy, you go around the world to see what's happening or what could happen and make sure if it's bad, it doesn't happen, or if it's good, we could make it happen ... we're going to have to make it happen.

"Being here helped me since my Mom is here and I get to see her. The best part was to spend time with my Mom. I love my Mom."