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Take care of our military children

  • Published
  • By Col. Scott DeThomas
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing
As the MacDill Air Force Base installation commander, I appreciate this opportunity to share my perspective on the unique challenges facing our military children and thank our great community for their overwhelming support for our military. A military family lives a very different lifestyle than most civilians can imagine. We, as a country, often focus on the challenges faced by the adults who are deployed and place themselves in harm's way for our freedom. The courage displayed by these brave men and women is unequalled and makes me proud to be part of our nation's armed forces.

Family...that's the word I'd like to focus on for a moment. Behind many of the service men and women who continue to defend our freedom, there are families at home waiting for their return. We have seen a growing trend of acute disruption facing those families, especially military children. The concept of the traditional family in the military is often replaced with temporary stretches of single parenting lasting anywhere from six to 12 months for the typical deployment. In the case of my family, our high school senior is attending his fourth high school and has moved six times in the last eight summers. While my seven year old daughter, who has attended some form of schooling since age three, is experiencing her first uninterrupted two-year period in the same school. That's right! Two years in a row in her 5 years of school and she is only in second grade. While I realize that my family might represent an extreme case of moving frequency, many of my fellow Airmen, soldiers, sailors, and Marines share similar experiences. Military children often attend up to nine different schools during their elementary and secondary school experience, and move every two to three incredible statistic when compared to their civilian classmates.

Imagine the difficulties these children face in always being "the new kid" in class. Making new friends and leaving new friends every few years, dealing with parental deployments and trying to fit in when no one really understands what they're going through, are unique situations for military children. These are just some of the unique circumstances these brave military children face in their support to their parents' military service. When a military student is enrolled in a district school, possibly with no other military families, these unusual stressors can isolate them in ways that can result in very difficult, sometimes tragic responses. This is why the mutual support they can provide each other, coupled with the tailored attention of teachers and administrators, in a military-focused school environment is so crucial.

In this great city of Tampa, that truly supports its military, it is important to address the concerns of our military children and their families. Recent studies highlight the importance of education on maintaining a high-quality military force. These same reports document the impact of education on recruiting and retention and help solidify the military belief that we "recruit members, but we retain families." As a father of two, and the commander responsible for the well-being of over 20,000 service-men and women and their families, I am dedicated to ensuring our military children receive the best education possible given their unique circumstances. Innovative approaches, like charter schools, can help our military children embrace new environments, where they are surrounded by their peers, who go through similar experiences, as well as military-friendly programs. This will result in greatly improved chances for a seamless transition into the MacDill community and success while stationed in Tampa Bay. Again, thank you for the tremendous support for our military families across the greater Tampa Bay area.