Military service is voluntary in the United States, but it’s a different story for the children born into military families. That’s an estimated 1.8 million children who face many unique challenges and stresses of military life not known by civilian kids.
“The frequent deployments often mom or dad is gone,” said Gail Mouse, director of MacDill’s Child Development Center 3. “As well as, they’re moving every two to three years. They don’t have the support systems that many of the civilian children have with having family right there.”
But those same challenges can also bond a family according to Erin Morath whose husband is with the maintenance squadron at MacDill Air Force Base.
“You really appreciate what you have when you have it because before you know it daddy’s gone again or we’re moving again and friends are gone again. So it’s really about appreciating what you have,” Morath said.
She and her daughter Molly Morath were among the 400 who marched in the Monday morning parade to honor the military children at MacDill Air Force Base.
Leading the parade was the MacDill Color Guard, a base fire engine and the Robinson High School Drum Line followed by preschool children waving flags, toddlers in costumes ranging from firefighters to pirates to robots. Some wore cardboard costumes to look like airplanes, cars and buses while others were pushed in strollers or walked hand-in-hand with their military parent.
Liz Waters, director of the Airmen and Family Readiness Center at MacDill Air Force Base and acting flight chief for the Airmen Family Services Flight, says many civilians would be surprised by the resiliency of military children.
“I think this is a time to honor them for what they’re doing to support their families,” Waters said. “They support the military just like their parents do.”
The Department of Defense recognizes April as the Month of the Military Child and encourages local bases to hold events honoring the children.
Part of that recognition extended to military families with children with autism. Kris Keyser coordinates all programs for special needs families at MacDill. Her ride in the parade was a golf cart decorated with blue balloons for the “Light it up Blue” campaign.
“Light It Up Blue is a global movement to kickoff Autism Awareness month,” Keyser said. “The Sun Trust building in downtown Tampa was all lit up blue. We gave away blue light bulbs to families housed on base.”