Purdue Agriculture is on the front line of helping children cope with their parents’ military deployments.
Through an outreach program called “Operation: Military Kids” (OMK), Purdue Extension, 4-H clubs and partnering organizations connect with Indiana children before, during and after dad’s or mom’s deployment. All 50 states and the District of Columbia maintain OMK programs, funded by the Army’s Child, Youth and School Services with supplemental funding from the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Outreach takes many forms, from 4-H activities to special events to the use of a Mobile Technology Lab—a portable communications system that allows military youth to create and send greeting cards, video messages and digital photos to their deployed loved ones.
A popular OMK resource is the “Hero Pack.” The backpacks are provided to military children. Inside they find a journal, disposable camera, paper, writing instruments, stuffed animal and a hand-written letter. The packs are a way for children to stay in contact with their deployed parent, as well as connect to the variety of support programs in place for them.
“The letter is the most important part of the Hero Pack,” says Steve McKinley, Purdue OMK project director. “It’s usually written by another young person to the military child, thanking them for their service and the sacrifices they are making for their country. It lets them know they are heroes, too.”
More than 2,000 backpacks have been distributed each year since the Indiana OMK program debuted in 2005.
Exclusive to Indiana OMK is Military Kids in School Support, where school counselors, OMK youth program specialists and military family life consultants teach military children stress-management skills. “It’s off to a great start,” says Judy Hauser, Purdue OMK coordinator.
OMK success stories abound. An Alaskan boy with both parents deployed went to Boone County to stay with his grandmother. Through the 4-H dairy lease program, he was able to care for and show a dairy heifer.
“His grandmother said it lit a spark in him,” Hauser says. “She said he was feeling down being so far away from home and his parents, but caring for the animal really brightened his life and made him so much happier.
“What could have been a very difficult time for the grandmother and grandson became a fun time for them both.”