MacDill CARES Simulates Deployment for Kids

Fifth graders are lined up in their "chalks" ready to enter Hangar 4 for their simulated deployment to Qatar.

Military exercises are routine at MacDill Air Force Base, but they held one Thursday that was different. It was a mock deployment exercise for fifth graders from the base’s Tinker Elementary School.

The 100 students arrived at the base theater in buses much like their military parents arrive at a deployment processing center. That’s the purpose of the MacDill CARES (Contingency and Readiness Education) exercise to let children experience what their parents go through from simulated immunization shots to being briefed on the mission.

Kimberly Mohabir smiles as she receives a simulated immunization shot which is really a vile of candy.

At one point, Lt. Col. Aaron Meadows asked the school kids how many had a parent deploy.

“Practically every single person raised their hand,” Meadows told reporters later. “In today’s military, every person deploys at one time or another overseas in their career.”

Fifth grader Kimberly Mohabir’s dad is in the Navy but she learned some new things.

“I’m not in the Air Force,” Mohabir said. “My dad’s in a different branch. So it’s kind of cool to learn about a different branch how they deploy.”

Al-nound Fatias, 15, shares details about her home country Qatar, the destination of the students' simulated deployment.

The fifth graders also were briefed about Qatar – the destination of their simulated deployment. Al-nound Fatias, 15, presented photographs and details about her country from its climate to its customs and culture. Her father is a Brigadier General with Qatar and assigned to MacDill Air Force Base.

The students wanted to know to know what the food was like in Qatar and how long it took Fatias to learn English. One fifth-grader asked her to say “Chicken McNuggets” in Arabic. She said “Chicken McNuggets” which raised some laughter.

But, the children also got some reality checks like from Air Force Chaplain Capt. William Spencer.

“When you’re deploying you may have concerns,” Spencer told the group. “Maybe something is going on in your families and you want to talk to a chaplain about that. You can talk to us and when you talk to us it is 100 percent confidential no matter what you share with us. We hold it confidential. We don’t tell anyone and no one can make us tell.”

The students are lined up awaiting entry into Hangar 4 where more than a dozen "stations" were set up for students to try on protective gear and check out aircraft.

The children were divided into groups called “chalks.” That’s because if they were deploying like most of their parents have – they would line up on a chalk line before boarding an aircraft or bus.

Each “Chalk” was processed the students given a bag of goodies, dog tags and simulated immunization shots before being bused to Hangar 4 where they were greeted by Air Force Capt. Bell, head of the deployment.

Proudly holding the standard for Chalk 1 was Dominique Kelley whose military parent is based at MacDill but has not deployed.

Dominique Kelley earned the privilege of holding the Chalk 1 standard by winning a staring contest.

“I feel that the people who have been are strong fighters,” Kelley said. “They are very brave to fight through the moment without some of their parents. I feel that they are one of the bravest kids that they can be.” 

That includes his classmate standing next to him, Sierah Ginnity, whose dad has deployed twice.

“When I was five and my dad first went on to this bus, we all started crying and were so sad because we missed my dad. It’s very tear jerking,” Ginnity said. To prepare for the CARE Exercise, her dad told her “Prepare to be proud and to be a leader.”

Sierah Ginnity holds the standard for the photograph to her right is Randen Jones, both children have had their parents deploy.

She then asked to hold the Chalk 1 standard which was a flag for Army Airborne. Another member of Chalk 1 was Randen Jones.

“My dad is always being deployed,” Randen said. “So, I’d really like to experience what he experiences being deployed,”

He got that chance as the children spent the day trying on protective combat gear, checking out medical equipment, weapons and a KC 135 tanker aircraft before going through the last step, reintegration, heading back to school or home.

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