Fireworks went off when I was born…or at least that is what my Mom told me. I think it was more like flares than fireworks. You see I was born while my Dad was deployed to Vietnam. Apparently, nothing could keep my Mom, a very young mother, from calling her husband about his second-born daughter’s birth. Nothing. Despite his being in a war zone, on a mountain, in a tent, she demanded he know. She picked up the phone from her hospital room, dialed “0” and started from there. My mom exemplified the type of scrappy determination military families cultivate as they regularly uproot their lives in service to their country and in support of their active duty spouses.
My Dad served in the Army for 30 years. He enlisted young, married, and as a noncommissioned officer began a journey around the world. I am a very proud military child, and being military-connected has been a significant part of my life and my life’s work. I attended at least eight schools in several states and overseas. Some years I absolutely longed for what so many others seemed to have: a permanent home and life-long friendships that began in preschool or even earlier. Over time, I grew to love the new friendships I made along the way, the challenges brought by regular change, the opportunity to live in so many diverse places, and the resilience created by all my experiences. The ability to be both strong and vulnerable is a shared experience among military kids; fostered by lots of uncertainty and a culture that both connected me to a wide experience and inspired me to always look for ways to stretch myself and take risks in service to others.
Ironically, one of Dad’s last duty stations was in the Nation’s Capital. His assignment? Families. He became the first Sergeant Major devoted to what was then called the Army Community and Family Support Center – and child care was under his purview. Affectionately called the “touchy-feely” Sergeant Major, he took his role very seriously, and I can see his commitment, still, in the way he talks about one of his final assignments serving the nation he loves. He visited child care centers around the world, and participated in the fight for the Military Child Care Act (MCCA) passed by Congress in November 1989. The goal of MCCA was to improve the availability, management, quality, and safety of child care provided on military installations. By systematically implementing fee assistance for military families to help alleviate child care costs, dramatically improving the quality of programs, developing focused training for child care providers, and increasing health and safety measures for programs, the Department of Defense created the nation’s highest quality child care system that serves well over 200,000 children a day around the globe.
He couldn’t have guessed, back then, that the daughter born that day while he was on a Vietnamese mountaintop would one day find that her greatest professional honor was to likewise serve military families.
Dad, thank you, too, for your many years of service in many roles….
…From my perspective, the most important work you did was working on behalf of military children and families. You have made a difference, and our organization works every day to make a difference too. As for my Mom and my birth announcement, well…after several operators, much persistence, a few tears, and one satellite phone, “fireworks” did indeed go off on a mountainside somewhere in Vietnam when my Dad ecstatically heard the news.
During this Month of the Military Child, I applaud all military children for the challenges they face, the obstacles they overcome, and the resilience they demonstrate. I remember that life was often tough as a military child, and only a select few others understood and shared that life experience. I am grateful for all those who demonstrate their appreciation for these amazing children. To the families and their Service members, I offer my thanks for the sacrifices you make each and every day.
Based on my own experience working for the Department of the Army’s child care system over 20 years ago and the work our organization does today, I understand the profound difference these services make towards the mission of military readiness. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis noted recently, “Affordable, quality and accessible child care for our military families is a quality of life multiplier and a key to mission readiness. The Department is committed to supporting our families by facilitating access to reliable care for their young children.”
All military families should have access to high quality child care for their children – infants, toddlers, preschoolers and school-age. Yet the Defense Department’s child care system can serve only a fraction of the demand and too many military families cannot access high quality care for their children. If you want to make a difference for all military families, urge Congress to increase investment to serve military children while their parents are protecting our county.
To all those military children out there – you deserve fireworks! Happy MOMC!
CCAoA is honored to serve military families each day through its military fee assistance program, Exceptional Family Member Respite Program, militarychildcare.com, and other programs in service to our Nation’s military.