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Oct 21, 2010
By Sheryl Nix, Fort Wainwright PAO

FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - From predeployment briefings to family readiness group trainings, unit briefings, Army Community Service programs and more, Fort Wainwright offers many resources to deploying Soldiers and their families, but parents may still wonder what they can do to help prepare their children for deployments and how to help them cope during and after the separation as well.

Thanks to a collaboration between the Army and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 4-H youth development programs, Operation: Military Kids is available to support children and youth in Alaska and around the country as they cope with deployments.

In addition to supporting the goals of the Army Family Covenant, the Army's commitment to fund programs that create a quality of life for Soldiers and families commensurate with their service, OMK also supports the Army Community Covenant, which fosters community partnerships aimed at improving the quality of life of Soldiers and families.

OMK raises the awareness of the effect of deployments on children, supports military families and helps get the information about available resources into the hands of families and those who work with military families, said Candi Dierenfield, director of Alaska Operation Military Kids.

The program provides a wide variety of curriculum, activities and resources for military children throughout the nation. The collaboration between the Army and the USDA 4-H youth development programs created a comprehensive program that targets primarily children in kindergarten through 12th grade and reaches even beyond Army families to include all branches of military services.

"Operation: Military Kids is Army funded currently," Dierenfield said. "It's purple so even though the Army is funding it they've (decided) that it's such a great program that we want it to serve all branches including Coast Guard, so we go from the Defense Department to Homeland Security."

OMK curriculum, activities and resources are available for FRGs, units and organizations working with military children and are solid, research-based and written by professionals in the field along with 4-H professors and staff, she said.

"Operation: Military Kids curriculum is all really life skill development but it focuses on resiliency, stress management and coping with deployment all the way from predeployment to 90 or 120 days after a deployment," she said.

Operating under a "train the trainer" concept, OMK is intended to be a volunteer-based program that shares curriculum and resources with those who teach who can then also train others. The goal is not just to entertain children during an FRG meeting or other venue, but to educate them or share a life skill that will help them as they cope with a parent's deployment.

"It's so easy; it really is. The activities are set up where it will tell you the age group it benefits the best or who it's written for. How much time you're going to need. How much prep time you'll need. How much space you'll need. Here's your supply list. It will tell you how to set up, how many volunteers you need. And then all of the activities are based on the experiential learning process so it's not just doing the activity, it's taking the activity and turning it into something - taking it from the short term memory to the long term memory so it becomes an educational experience as well," Dierenfield said.

Dierenfield works with FRG leaders, senior advisors, family readiness support assistants, ACS and other organizations and also goes to schools to work with teachers and guidance counselors.

"I think that's a huge focus I have is getting the program information out there and into people's hands so they can see how easy it is to use," she said. "Like at an FRG meeting if they want to have something for the kids, the teens could teach. They could use the curriculum and teach the younger kids."

In addition to specialized curriculum and activities for military children, OMK sponsors camps for children and teens throughout the state. The program also has a wide variety of resources available for use by FRGs and other groups, including the mobile technology labs that can be checked out and used to make holiday greetings, have SKYPE conversations with deployed Soldiers and for other ways to facilitate communication between children and teens and their deployed parents. The MTLs are also used at the teen leadership camp so teens can produce public service announcements that will further the program's goal of increasing awareness of the effects of deployment on children, Dierenfield said.

She will provide curriculum, training and resources to units, FRGs and organizations that need them, but the OMK help does not end there.

"After getting the curriculum and the programs out there, (my goal) is just letting everyone know that I'm here for support," she said. "If you need additional training or you need help finding additional volunteers to come help in your program, I have supplies for just about anything and everything; crazy supplies - tarps and karaoke machines and things that go along with the activities in the books. We'll get you what you need."

For more information about OMK or to request curriculum or resources, call Dierenfield at 474-1909 or 377-4130.