A young spectator interacts with members of the Ranger Training Battalions during the 2010 Best Ranger Competition, Fort. Benning, Ga., May 08, 2010. Families and spectators were allowed to view specific portions of the competitions to cheer on their teams.
By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 23, 2011 -- Military children need the support not just of the Defense Department, but the "whole of nation" to ensure they're ready for the future, a DoD official said here today.
"Military children are resilient, but they need a lot of help," said Robert L. Gordon III, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy. "We're doing much more in the within the Department of Defense and federal government, but it will not be enough, because this is an American problem. It's not just a problem of the Department of Defense."
Gordon touched on the challenges facing military children and some of the programs the Defense Department is implementing to help them during a roundtable on the education of military children, one of the culminating events of an education summit called "Building a Grad Nation."
Military families today have different challenges from those their predecessors faced, he said, most notably multiple deployments. "Again and again we are seeing servicemembers deployed and spouses having to take care of their families back home," he said. "It's been very difficult."
Gordon said he just returned from a trip to Europe, where he met with spouses and children. Some of the spouses he met had never been out of the United States before, yet were asked to move overseas with their children and without their military spouse, who was deployed directly into the combat theater. Most of these spouses, he noted, were under 25 years old.
"That is the world in which we live today," he said.
Scattered around the world are about 2 million military children, Gordon said, 1.2 million of school age.
Of the 1.2 million, roughly 90,000 are in the military school system, and about 70,000 are in public schools on military installations across the country. The other roughly 1 million children are scattered throughout the United States in the public school system.
"One the issues is finding them, understanding where in the world they are and what they are doing," Gordon said. Then, he added, it's "finding and engaging them."
This will take a concerted effort that extends far beyond the reach of the Defense Department, he said.
Gordon praised President Barack Obama's Presidential Study Directive 9, which directed federal agencies to determine how they can better support military families. A report titled "Strengthening Our Military Families: Meeting America's Commitment" outlines the nearly 50 commitments federal government agencies made on behalf of military families. Many are specific to military children and their education.
"It is a whole-of-nation approach," Gordon said. "All 16 agencies of the federal government focused on military families. It's about strengthening military families."
Within the Defense Department, Gordon called for leadership involvement to help bolster military children and praised the efforts of Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his wife, Deborah Mullen, who also spoke at the roundtable.
"The chairman could prioritize a lot of different things - this is the DoD - but it has been our children that they have prioritized," he said. The chairman and his wife have gone across country and brought back pertinent issues and avenues of change, he noted, which "helps us craft our programs."
Additionally, DoD leaders have commissioned a 270-day education review, currently under way, to "ensure world-class educational opportunities for all 1.2 million military children," he said.
The review will look at curriculum for military children, the impact of transitions and deployments, and facilities.
Gordon also highlighted the military family life consultant program, which is designed to provide support to service members and their families. Consultants provide parent education, information on support services, and helps individuals and families develop coping mechanisms.
The program includes 40,000 consultants, he said, who assist with non-medical counseling for a set length of time. They also can work within schools for a semester at a time.
"This is a huge success story," he said.
Overall, it will take a combination of strong leadership seeking areas of improvement and the support of the entire nation to ensure military children receive the support they need and deserve, Gordon said.
After all, he noted, "military children are American children."