Since the 1980s, April has been designated the Month of the Military Child. It’s a recognition of the sacrifices children of military personnel must make when their father or mother is called to active duty. Their sacrifices and concerns for their well being are numerous and various.
They are often times referred to as the “military brat,” the child of a military service member. For many, it means a childhood involving multiple relocations. It also means long-term separations from parents who are called to active duty or deployed overseas.
Eric Hutcheson recalled when his daughter was very young and he had just returned from duty in Iraq in 2004.
“She would not leave me for the longest time,” said Hutcheson, who is retired from military and is now employed as a case worker for WNY Heroes, Inc. in Clarence. “Everywhere I went afterwards. She wanted to go to the store, at such a young age. The experts would tell the families ‘it’s not going to affect them.’ It does. She was attached to me at the hip.”
The emotions may begin with sadness and, as the child gets older, lead to irritability upon which they act, according to Lisa Butler, an associate professor in the School of Social Work at the University at Buffalo.
“Other issues related to (the children) are if the deployed parent, when they come home, or the non-deployed parent who stays home have any issues around mental illness or substance abuse,” Butler said. “There’s also issues for those children whose parents may be injured or killed.”
Many times, like the loved one who serves, the stay-at-home parent may take on the mindset that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Butler urges the community to be there in support of the stay-at-home spouse. How that parent behaves may adversely affect the child.
“If the stay-at-home parent is not functioning very well, if they’re depressed or anxious or upset, if the routines are disturbed in the family, that can be incredibly disturbing for the child,” Butler said.
Hutcheson’s employer, WNY Heroes Inc., provides services including some crafted to support the military child. Keeping them busy is important for their well-being, Hutcheson told WBFO. Their services include financial assistance to give kids a chance to participate in sports, dance, camps or other activities.
“Often times, veterans or members of the military may be struggling with finances,” he said. “Military doesn’t pay a lot. Veterans may not get a lot of money. Often times, kids miss out on some of the activities that a lot of other kids get to do.”
One program available exclusively to children of military is Operation Purple Camp, a series of weeklong summer camps held throughout the country. The Western New York version of Operation Purple Camp has been held at Pioneer Camp in Angola and the 2019 session is already scheduled for the week of July 7-12.
Hutcheson’s own children have been regular attendees. As for the little girl who wouldn’t leave his side all those years ago? She’s now 17 years old and, Hutcheson says, is still attached.
He teared up when recalling the times he had to leave his kids behind when deployed.
“It affects you a lot,” he said.