Messages Home: The true heroes of war

December 7, 2009 by

Sister Loretta Jasper is a “military life counselor” serving in two “off-post” schools neear Fort Riley, Kansas. This is one of her regular dispatches on the work she’s doing.

Sisters, Agrégées, Associates and Friends of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia,

As a Military Family Life Consultant, currently working in two off-post elementary schools in the Fort Riley area, I have the opportunity to soften and to re-direct the edge of stressors for teachers, staff, parents and children in schools where the majority of families serve in the military.

Given the high level of deployment and re-integration within Fort Riley, the enrollment of “my” schools changes daily. Friends come and go; parents come and go. Some children change schools, friends, and geographic areas as frequently as the Midwestern seasons change. As a result they are tasked with changing roles in the family as a parent leaves and then returns — to stay focused on school work, to sleep peacefully at night, to not be worried sick about the absent parent’s safety and sometimes to be concerned about the present parent’s ability to manage the household (aka, to parent effectively) during one more deployment. The child is concerned not only IF the military parent will return alive, but HOW will Dad/Mom be upon returning home.

Within the past month, while chatting with a classroom of 26 third-graders, only three were not affiliated with the military. Of those 23, half of them have at least one parent deployed, several have a parent who had just returned from Iraq, and several have a parent who was about to be deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan.

These children bubbled over as they shared how tough it is to change friends, to change neighborhoods and teachers, to be in schools which do not match up to other schools they have attended, or to currently be in a really good school knowing they will be moving.

Kara recently moved from an Army base in Alaska and enrolled in the first-grade of one of the two off-post schools I serve in the Fort Riley area. Kara’s first three weeks in “my” school included multiple emotional “melt-downs.” New school, new town, new friends, Dad gone, in addition to being behind her classmates in phonics and writing.

Her 6-year-old language was unable to sort through all of her frustrations, losses, and changes. Me, the o’-timey-teacher, opted to help mend Kara’s heart by teaching her “how to fish”…to help her with basic phonics and writing. She literally blossomed with each new step of learning. She loves learning and school. What a delight to see this little person bloom with eagerness and personal satisfaction. Meltdowns? Stopped.

Zach, a second-grader, was enrolled by his soldier/mother in early October while she was given a seven-day emergency leave from Iraq. Mom’s commanding officer in Iraq had evidence that Zach was indeed being physically abused by maternal grandparents and uncle, which resulted in multiple trips to the emergency room.

Within 24 hours, Zach changed towns, friends, schools, custodial parent ( who was Mom’s spouse prior to August deployment). Mom was soon to return to Iraq. Not only was Zach losing his mother again, but he was fearful of her safety in Iraq, and of his and his stepfather’s safety given the threats from maternal grandparents following hotline calls related to the abuse.

The maternal grandparents were Mom’s only option for the care of her son since her first of now third deployments. When she enlisted in the National Guard, deployment was not a given, much less multiple deployments. Mom enlisted in the National Guard to break her abusive family cycle and to increase the quality of her life: college education, financial sustenance, etc. Little did Mom realize at the time of her original enlistment she would be deployed three times and that her only option for the care of her son would be her abusive parents, hoping upon hope that they had changed through the years.

These are merely three of many instances of the true and unsung heroes of war: the children.

Loretta Jasper

Comments

6 Responses to “Messages Home: The true heroes of war”

  1. Mary Fran Simons on December 26th, 2009 1:30 pm

    Thanks, Loretta, for this important article. The cost of war is so great. I see it in many persons with whom I have worked. Children of Viet Nam vets, the veterans themselves; however, this is a new phenonmen when Mothers are gone and when there are multiple deployments. I think we must speak out and bring the Nation’s attention to this Again, thanks for your article.

  2. Suzanne Giro on December 10th, 2009 9:41 am

    Oh, Loretta, what heart wrenching stories. I know that you are in the right place. Personally, I haven’t given much thought to the children of the military. The spouses, yes, but not the children. Thanks for opening my eyes!

  3. Patricia Cushing on December 9th, 2009 8:21 am

    Thanks Loretta

    Your insights and sharing are very perceptive.
    Living near Ft Devons I see some of this myself in a different venue.

    Stories are heartbreaking and the courage is hearwarming.
    Makes one wonder when poeple will see that ‘war’ is NOT ever a solution.

  4. Jill on December 9th, 2009 7:35 am

    Loretta,

    Wow! These stories break my heart. I am thankful that you are there to minister to them. I am sure that the reward that comes from helping these kids gets overshadowed by the sheer number and depth of problems. We will have these children in our prayers, and you as well.

    Jill

  5. Anne M. Reinert on December 7th, 2009 8:40 pm

    Thanks Loretta, and Sarah, thanks for posting. Anne

  6. Sr. Beth Stover Class of '64 on December 7th, 2009 9:27 am

    Loretta,
    Thanks for sharing such heart-felt events in your life with these children and families.
    “The dear neighbor” comes in all ages and circumstances.
    Blessings on your continued ministry and much needed service.
    Beth

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