Story and photo by Andrea Sutherland
Educators, counselors, senior military officials and members of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s staff gathered Friday for the Military Child and Youth Symposium held at Peterson Air Force Base.
The all-day event was sponsored by Fort Carson and hosted more than 270 attendees.
“This is a call to action,” said Col. Robert F. McLaughlin, garrison commander. “This is about linking together to do more.”
Part of the Month of the Military Child, the goal of the symposium was to educate and energize military and civilian community members who work with military youths, said Kristen Kea, manager, Warrior Family Community Partnership.
In a special address to attendees, first lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, the vice president’s wife, recorded a call to action.
“We recognize the special contribution military children make,” Obama said. “As a grateful nation, it is our sacred duty to honor military children.”
“The government can only do so much,” said Biden, who encouraged community partners to reach out and help.
Brig. Gen. James H. Doty, acting senior commander, 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson, said the population at the Mountain Post more than doubled in the last 18 months and it is projected that nearly 2,350 children would call Fort Carson home in 2011.
“We have been at war for 10 years,” Doty said. “The Army will not break; however, we might break our Families.”
Doty said that because Fort Carson does not host any academies or special schools, the challenges its youths face are unique.
“We train, we deploy, we redeploy,” Doty said.
That constant rotation takes its toll on Families, especially children, said Cindy McLaughlin, wife of Robert F. McLaughlin.
“You get into a routine and you close yourself emotionally,” she said.
Married for 25 years, Cindy McLaughlin and her five children have managed four deployments.
“Military kids are the strongest, most resilient, tenacious and outstanding people,” she said.
Fifteen military youths, representing various services including the National Guard, took the stage at the conference to answer questions about the challenges they face.
“Moving has been hard,” said Bailey Rainey, 16, daughter of a Fort Carson Soldier and member of the panel. “I can’t be in clubs because I haven’t been there long enough.
My (grade-point average) changed, and I lost credits.”
Rainey, who has attended three high schools, said she wasn’t allowed to swim on the state relay team because the slot went to another student who’d been with the team longer. She also said that she wasn’t allowed in her school’s Spanish Honor Society, despite meeting the requirements, because she hadn’t earned her credits at that high school.
Rainey urged counselors and educators in the audience to support the military youths at their schools and to understand their circumstances.
“I want you guys to help them celebrate being a military kid,” she said.