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The ABC's Of A Deployed Parent During Christmas

By Catherine M. Welch

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/whqr/local-whqr-661559.mp3

Wilmington, NC – Across the country many military children will spend the holidays without a parent who is deployed overseas. The sheer numbers create challenges for schools on military bases that keep tabs on how the kids are doing.

WHQR's Catherine Welch visited McNair Elementary School at Ft. Bragg where half of the children will spend the holidays with at least one parent deployed.

A row of kindergarten students moves down the hall single file until McNair Elementary School principal Tim Howle - a compact man with a bald head and a goatee - enters. And from there single file goes out of the window.

Odds are at least one of these students has a parent who is deployed. Howle is former military. He knows the sacrifice that are made, and when a parent is deployed he tries to soften the blow with a brief ceremony during homeroom.

And I go in and we get the kids in front of the classroom and I bring him us and shake his hand and tell him to us they're heroes as well.

And he hands them his homemade All American Hero certificate with the American flag and their name on it.

is awarded this special certificate for service to our family and our country as an awesome kid.

My name is Izobel McCaffry. He announced that I was a person who got a certificate and um and he congratulated me for the cerfiticit.

Eight-year-old Izobel told her father all about the All American Hero certificate when he left for Afghanistan. She's one of many students at McNair who has received a certificate this school year.

Principal Howle keeps track of deployments on a spreadsheet in his office.

Okay I'm going onto the computer go into My Documents here, and I'm going into deployed parents, and here we are, let's see we have 147 right now out of I think we're up to 360 now.

Students get on Howle's spreadsheet by telling teachers like Katy Jones that their mom or dad is going overseas.

Some deal with it I guess better than others or in different ways. I've had children anywhere from break down and cry and be upset or just kind of come over and mention to me my dad left and I won't see him for a long time,

Half of her first grade students are on Howle's spreadsheet.

I just kinda explain to them you know what, my husband's gone too and they'll be back and every day we mark a little day on the calendar it just helps them relate, I hope, I hope I'm showing that to them.

Talk to a parent or teacher at McNair Elementary and they'll repeat that old adage that children are pretty resilient.

But some students are having difficulty. Robin Normand's husband shipped out to Iraq last January. It's the first deployment for her youngest son Cody, a first grader, and he's having trouble coping.

He won't be left home without me. The first few weeks of school Mr. Howle had to practically keep him in his office so I could leave because he would be crying not wanting me to leave

McNair Elementary School counselor George Small says when a student such as Cody is clearly upset over a parent's deployment the staff steps in to give the extra attention needed.

One thing we stress the point of is, your dad is doing his job and what is your job as a student. Would your dad want you to be doing you job while he's doing his job? And they understand that.

Seventeen miles north of Ft. Bragg, at Anderson Creek Primary School, which only goes to the second grade, school counselor Silvia Goodnight says they're grappling with many of the same issues.

I just ask them, tell me how you're feeling, what is it about this that is making you sad. And I encourage them to think of times when they've had good times with their parents too, to sort of dig some postholes for them to hold on to those times too.

Anderson Creek Primary School is one of many schools orbiting around Ft. Bragg. The Army base expects 5,000 soldiers to return around the holidays. So it has asked surrounding schools to give students an entire week off without penalty for family bonding time.

And this need for students to have long stretches of time with a returning parent isn't isolated to military communities.

At this point it's everywhere, because of the extensive call ups of the Guard and Reserve.

Joyce Raezer is executive director of the National Military Families Association.

It's not just a military community issue anymore. It's any school, any school can suddenly have a military child or in the case of the Guard and Reserve see a staff member deployed.

Back at McNair Elementary on Ft. Bragg, students prepare for the upcoming holiday pageant. For half of these students at least one parent will miss the festivities.

But in February some soldiers are coming home. And it's likely they'll find a house still covered in holiday lights and gifts wrapped neatly under the tree. Because at Ft. Bragg it's not truly Christmas until both mom and dad are home.

Do you have insight or expertise on this topic? Please email us, we'd like to hear from you. news@whqr.org.