Month of the Military Child: Recognizing military-connected children

  • Published
  • By Cristina Oxtra
  • Minnesota National Guard

Every year in April, the Department of Defense joins national, state, and local governments, schools, military serving organizations, companies, and communities in celebrating Month of the Military Child to recognize the commitment, contributions, and sacrifices of military-connected youth from all the nation’s military branches. 

According to the DoD, there are more than 1.6 million children who face many challenges and unique experiences as a result of their parents’ military service. In Minnesota, there are more than 15,000 children with at least one service member parent in the National Guard or Reserve. 

“They are there every step of the way through a parent’s deployment and military service. They know when it’s time for mom or dad to prep, pack, and leave for a weekend drill, monthly training, or year-long deployment.” said Laura Groeneweg, lead Minnesota National Guard Child & Youth Program coordinator. “Military-connected children share the burden of service when their service members must miss important events in their lives or when frequent moves force them from what they know into new and different experiences.” 

Air Force Master Sgt. Megan Shaner, of the Duluth-based 148th Fighter Wing, and her husband, Benjamin, have three daughters, Kate, 13; Hannah, 10; and Abby, 8, who have experienced these challenges, including being separated from their mom for long periods of time. 

“Mom is constantly leaving, and we sometimes only find out a day or two before she has to go,” Kate said. 

Shaner already senses tension from her daughters as she prepares to leave again. 

“Due to a new job, I’ll be leaving for six months of training, and although we have been very open and honest with our girls about it, I can tell a couple of them are already pre-stressing out,” she said. 

Except, maybe Hannah. 

“‘Cause dad’s awesome!” Hannah said. 

Shaner agreed. “He turns into total fun dad while I am away for military-related things, so Hannah looks forward to me having to leave,” she said. 

Although military children may receive support from family members, they also need it beyond their home. 

“They need connections that understand the changes their mom or dad’s career brings to their family,” Shaner said. 

To establish and maintain these valuable connections, Hannah attended the Minnesota National Guard Youth Camp at Camp Ripley last year. She and her sisters also participate in the Military Kids Club at their school in Proctor. Military Kids Club is an after-school program for military youth to connect with one another through activities and curriculum provided by the Minnesota National Guard Child & Youth Program. The curriculum includes deployment related topics, such as stress, coping, communication, and resilience. Kate volunteers as a youth leader for the club and likes helping the younger children who join. Abby, who is considering joining the military one day, enjoys spending time with friends who are part of the club. 

The support the Shaner children receives goes beyond being part of the club. 

“My friends all know my mom is in the military, so they are always asking me how I’m doing,” Hannah said. 

“With Proctor being a Beyond the Yellow Ribbon community, it has a deep connection to the military community. Our kids have attended the Military Kids Club since it began. That has been an amazing connecting point for them to meet and know other military kids from the area,” Shaner said. “Every kid’s needs are different, so what my oldest daughter needs is quite different than my youngest daughter. But through the connections they’ve made at Military Kids Club, they’ve all made lasting friendships through it. We’ve marched with the Military Kids Club in Proctor’s annual Hoghead Parade. The community is so excited and supportive when we walk by. I love that our kids see their community supporting us.” 

Five years ago, Shaner had to leave for a short-notice three-month humanitarian mission. Before she left, she and Benjamin reached out to their daughters’ teachers at Hermantown Elementary and asked them to keep an eye on the girls. 

“When I got extended and my trip lasted seven months, we kept them in the loop. Our kids handled it in stride, but knowing we had opened healthy communication with the teachers and school staff from the beginning was a huge relief for me and eased a lot of worries,” Shaner said. 

The family also participates in events with Shaner’s unit, like Bulldog Family Day, and those hosted by the Minnesota National Guard Family Programs, such as the youth ice fishing clinic and the climbing activity at Vertical Endeavors in Duluth, to stay connected with the military community. This year, they are looking forward to participating in the Month of the Military Child Purple Up Open House at the Mall of America for the first time. Purple is the color for Month of the Military Child and Purple Up Day is observed each year on April 15. 

Kate encourages everyone in Minnesota to wear purple throughout the month of April. 

“By wearing purple, it brings awareness to military kids,” Kate said. “Sometimes it’s nice to just be seen or understood.” 

The Stolp family understands this sentiment well. Kim Stolp and her husband, Army Sgt. Craig Stolp, Delta Company, 2nd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment, have four children, Mackinzee, 19; Kylee, 15; Zakary, 9; and Carter, 9. 

The Stolp children said the biggest challenge of being a military child is the fear of their dad being deployed. 

“When a family member is deployed, without support from family, friends, and community, it can make things tougher than they already are, so checking in on the kiddos is important as they need that extra comfort during these times,” Stolp said. “They are relentless. Knowing their family member places their life on the line every day for others and the sacrifices that are made. They are part of a large military family with several brothers and sisters bonding as they go through the same things.” 

The Stolp children suggest schools and communities recognize the sacrifices military children make while their parents serve and educate everyone about military service. Carter would like for service members to be included in parades. Kylee suggests schools observe Veterans Day as a holiday to honor veterans and Zakary thinks service members should be invited to schools to talk to students about what it’s like to serve. 

Like the Shaners, the Stolps also participate in military family events. 

“When Craig was deployed in 2009, we would travel to the cities for several family readiness group events for the kids. I cannot recall all of them, but if they had them, we would attend,” Stolp said. “Events put on by Beyond the Yellow Ribbon and family readiness groups, are so important to the military families. The impact of it is real and lasting. I think this is a wonderful way for military children and families to be recognized.” 

The Stolps have also been attending the Purple Up Open House at the Mall of America for several years and always look forward to it. 

“We would not miss it!” Stolp said. 

According to the Stolp children, besides the fun military events, there are other positives to being a military child, like, “My friends seeing my dad in his uniform and saying how cool it is and that someday they want to be in the Army,” Carter said. 

For Mackinzee, the best part of being a military child is, “Knowing my dad is a hero.”