I’ve covered many deployment ceremonies in my years as a military reporter, but one ceremony touched me deeply.
A unit was preparing to deploy for a year to Iraq a few years ago and I attended to take photos of family and friends bidding the soldiers farewell.
I zoomed in on one specific mother. She was crouched on the floor clinging to her two young children, both looked under the age of 5. She was attempting to put on a brave front, but as she held them, tears streamed down her face.
I later learned she was a single mom, as was I at the time. I could only begin to imagine her pain, and was in awe of her service and sacrifice.
Deployments and separations are an integral, yet very tough, part of military life, and the separations can test even the strongest of families. Spouses are left behind to care for households, and children, many too young to fully understand, must weather long separations from a parent.
The key, experts say, is to stay connected while separated. Open and frequent communication – whether through writing, e-mails or on the phone – can help keep the bonds strong.
In the upcoming weeks, I’ll be highlighting resources and passing on experts’ tips on keeping connected while deployed. In the meantime, I found a new way for military families to stay in touch that I believe will be particularly beneficial for families with young children.
Sesame Street Workshop has launched a user-friendly Web site for military families called Sesame Street Family Connections. It’s like a Facebook site for kids, offering families and friends a child-centered, online space to foster communication.
I visited a military family’s site the other day to check it out for myself and I was very impressed. Children of any age can make artwork, upload photos, record audio and create videos to share with their military parent. On the family’s site I visited, a young boy had created a ton of artwork for his dad, including a “Daddy Countdown” for when his dad would come home and a “Best Dad Award.” His deployed father can view this artwork at any time and also comment back.
For videos, with a Web cam, families and friends can record messages to share with their loved one, and, of course, their loved one can send a video message back.
Images and personal messages from Sesame Street favorites, including Elmo and Rosita, will definitely attract the younger bunch, while the higher-tech features, such as image and video uploading, will hold the interest of older kids.
It definitely offers a child-friendly, 24/7 way for separated families to stay in touch.
I hope military families take advantage of this great, free service. I’ll be keeping an eye out for other services like this one. If you have some ideas of your own that help you stay connected, please don’t hesitate to write in.
The Connections site is part of Sesame’s “Talk, Listen, Connect” initiative for military families. To find out more, go to http://www.sesameworkshop.org/initiatives/emotion/tlc.