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3 November 2010
by Sgt. Robert Schaffner, Fort Stewart Public Affairs

FORT STEWART, Ga. -- In preparation of Soldiers returning home after a year-long deployment, children and their parents gathered for their own reintegration seminar, a program designed specifically for children.

The excitement and planning for Soldiers returning home is a momentous occasion for many. However, the transition back to family life can be challenging, especially for children who are unable to express themselves as articulately as adults.

To reach out to the family members of Soldiers and their children during the reintegration process, Army Community Service (ACS) at Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield has taken the popular Sgt. Rocky's Neighborhood, a puppet show that helps children deal with issues in an age-appropriate setting, one step farther. The program that was initially designed to help children prepare for deployment is now helping children with reintegration.

"This program has been outstanding for children in having characters to express their emotions and to communicate their feelings through," said Linda Moseley, Stewart-Hunter ACS Mobilization and Deployment Manager. "This is a one-of-a-kind program."

On Oct. 28, children eagerly sat, watched, listened and interacted with the puppets on subjects regarding various reintegration topics such as how to prepare for when mommy or daddy comes home, late arrival due to delayed flights and many more topics answered through skits by puppets and their puppeteers and their character host's Linda Liberty and Mindy Marne.

"I enjoyed seeing how the puppets interacted with the kids and (got) them to ask and answer questions," said Sgt. Joseph Wilk, 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, who brought his children to the show.

The show was a hit with its intended audience - the children.

"I thought the show was great," said Emily Wilk, daughter of Sgt. Wilk. "Carlos was my favorite (puppet)." For some parents, the topics were already discussed at home, but were reinforced for a clearer understanding at the puppet show.

"The show was very informative," said Jennifer Kennedy, wife of Spc. John Kennedy with 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team. "I especially liked how the puppets covered how flights may be delayed. I have explained that already to my three children, but it was good to see it being reinforced here. I think (the children) understood it more by hearing it here."

The program is appreciated by parents and 3rd Inf. Div. command alike.

"This is a great event for the kids; hopefully they get something out of it," said Lt. Col. Chris Love, rear-detachment commander. "This provides the children with another source of information, not just their parents, to inform them about reintegration."

Moseley encourages parents to watch for signs of lingering stress, reactions and behaviors that are unusual for their children.

"If reactions persist, or increase in intensity or frequency, or interfere with daily living or school performance, seek professional help," she said. "In particular, look for significant changes in appetite or sleep, not enjoying or participating in favorite activities, being unhappy, sad or depressed, getting into fights, withdrawing from friends or becoming a loner at school or home, changes in academic performance/significant drop in grades, controlling his or her temper."

Moseley explained that studies and research on the effects of combat deployment on children, specifically with reintegration, are few.

Because children are so aware of their parent's emotions and behavior, it is vitally important that parents and other caregivers maintain a healthy lifestyle and nurture their own body, mind and spirit. Healthy living reduces stress and generates happiness within the entire family, and provides a positive role model for children and youth.

In other words, children are watching the adults and taking their cues.

The next SGT Rocky's Neighborhood shows will be held at the Family Readiness Center, building 87, from 4-6 p.m., Nov. 17 and Dec. 7.

For more information, contact Army Community Service at (912) 767-5058/5059.