By Lea Johnson
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo — An evening thunderstorm didn’t stop nearly 1,500 families from gathering at the R.P. Lee Youth Center April 11 to celebrate the Month of the Military Child.
April was designated as the Month of the Military Child in 1986 by former Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberg, four years before the Persian Gulf War.
In 1991 the Boys and Girls Clubs of America wanted to help the children of military service members who had been deployed during the war, said Dorothy Choate, Airman and Family Services flight chief.
The Boys and Girls Clubs of America reached out to the Department of Defense and in 1995, they partnered with the Air Force Youth Programs. “The Boys and Girls Clubs of America believes, like us, that military children are special. They’re facing things in this world that a typical child does not have to face,” Choate said. “Through that partnership we’ve standardized our programs throughout the Air Force to focus on the needs of our youth.”
The DOD estimates that today there are nearly 15 million Americans who are children of current or former military members. Many of today’s military children know nothing but a time of war, Choate said.
Master Sgt. Stacy Oliver, 21st Space Wing Inspector General manpower and personnel inspections manager, has been in the Air Force for 18 years. Her six-year-old daughter knows nothing but military life. “Unfortunately, people don’t realize how much kids suffer, especially when they have a parent deployed or (on a temporary duty assignment),” Oliver said.
Children aren’t asked to join the military, Choate said, it’s a sacrifice that’s forced upon them and it’s important to acknowledge their sacrifices as well.
“It’s our responsibility to recognize the quality of our family members. This month allows us to recognize these children for their strength, their character, their perseverance,” said Col. Jeffrey Flewelling, 21st Space Wing vice commander.
The celebration kicked off March 30 with the reading of the Month of the Military Child Proclamation at the Child Development Center, Choate said, and the CDC and youth center are hosting other activities for children through the month.
But the main event, of course, was the carnival and toy give away.
As families entered the carnival, children were handed color-coded tickets depending on their age. Throughout the evening, 3,500 toys, donated by the Toy Industry Foundation, were passed out to children ages zero to 12.
Peterson Air Force Base is one of 29 bases that have been selected since 2010 to host a toy give away.
A hotdog dinner and snacks, bounce houses, games, and face painting were provided by Sam’s Club, Ent Federal Credit Union, Sprint, USAA, and the University of Phoenix.
A late afternoon thunderstorm moved the bounce houses and games, which were supposed to take place at the parade grounds, into the youth center, but the rain didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits.
“It was like Christmas time,” Oliver said. “It was an awesome event and I think everyone really appreciated it.”