Local News

Military Schools Comfort Children With Parents at War

Posted October 25, 2007 5:59 p.m. EDT
Updated October 26, 2007 2:22 a.m. EDT

— With their parents facing bombs and bullets, the children of deployed soldiers are being comforted by the teachers and counselors at Fort Bragg schools.

Of nearly 4,300 students at Fort Bragg's nine schools, between 45 percent and 60 percent have at least one parent deployed to a combat zone.

That percentage has been even higher at Irwin Intermediate School. At least 70 percent of its 670 students have had a parent deployed within the past 12 months. In October, 43 percent had parents overseas.

Fifth-grader Tyler Hudgins experienced deployment for the first time when his father left for Iraq two months ago. Tyler said he sometimes feels "sad, mad. You'll throw stuff for no reason, because you're mad he's gone."

School counselors said children are keenly aware of the danger their parents face. Some react by becoming withdrawn or depressed, while others act out. All that makes it a challenge to keep students on track with their schoolwork, teachers said.

"Kids will come to school overwhelmed and anxious, and it's really hard to focus on the task at hand when they're worried about the safety of a parent," Irwin fifth-grade teacher Meredith Weipert said.

With many soldiers being deployed multiple times, it has become harder to calm children's fears, counselors said.

As of August 2007, the Department of Defense reported that 115,456 service members deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan had children at home. Some media reports said at least 700,000 children have had a parent deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

"A lot of the children will say, 'My dad hasn't been here for my birthday since I was 3 or 4 years old," Irwin sixth-grade counselor Natalie DaSilvan said.

"I talked with one child whose dad is coming back after 14 or 15 months. He's worried (that) here at the end, something is going to happen."

Fifth-grader Jymia Howard is a veteran of long separations. Her mother just got home from Iraq and recently learned she will be returning soon.

"I didn't like it. I just wanted her to stay, because I don't see her a lot," Jymia said.

Many teachers and counselors said they also have loved ones at war, so they understand what children are going through. Teachers at Irwin said the school family tackles the challenge together.

"When one of my students is hurting, I hurt as well," Weipert said.