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MacDill eases kids' fears of parents' deployment

TAMPA

Mom or dad is deployed overseas with the military. The nation is at war. And movies depict what that's like. It's combat and death.

Even Tom Hanks died at the end of Saving Private Ryan.

So fifth-grader Michael Sanchez wandered around a giant aircraft hangar at MacDill Air Force Base on Thursday as adults offered reassurance about his dad being stationed in Iraq.

"It scares me sometimes," the 11-year-old said. "I don't know if he is going to be killed in his sleep when things go wrong."

For the sixth year running, MacDill officials invited about 100 fifth-graders to the base in hopes of demystifying what parents go through in a deployment overseas. With the loss of mystery, officials hope they can prevent young imaginations from running wild.

As students at Tinker Elementary School, which is located on the base, almost every one of them had experienced the deployment of a parent.

It's a stressful event for kids in a culture where war games, movies and TV provide unending visions of battle.

"Deployment is a hard process," said Elizabeth Waters, director of MacDill's Airman and Family Readiness Center, which provides aid to families experiencing a deployment.

"We want to help ease their minds," she added. "They're curious about where mom and dad go and what they're going to be doing. These kids have seen the movies. We want to ease the stress of deployment."

It's not all about battle, the adults reassured.

So they talked to the children about what parents experience, taking them through the process as if they were about to deploy themselves.

They got immunization "shots" with toy syringes and toy dog tags that hung from their small necks.

One sergeant dressed in camouflaged fatigues told kids about a universal military pastime.

"In the military, we play this game called hurry up and wait," he told the kids.

At an aircraft hangar, children bounced excitedly between displays on weapons, military gear and even one on mental health where toy brains were a big hit.

The kids listened to a teenage girl from Qatar tell them about her homeland, a place many troops are stationed.

A boy asked her to speak a sentence in Arabic. His suggestion: "I like chicken nuggets."

After a student asked about assassinations in Qatar, a brigadier general from that country stepped up to a microphone.

"It is a very safe place," said Gen. Rashid Fetais. "I personally never close my gate at home."

And he said their parents will find some of the comforts of home in Qatar.

"We have a McDonald's there, so don't worry," Fetais said.

The children excitedly surrounded a table where two airmen displayed several weapons, including an M-16 rifle and a Beretta handgun.

"You never want to point it at somebody," said Air Force Tech Sgt. David Walker. "When you're in war, and people want to kill you, that's when you point it."

As the kids were shown a high-tech rifle, Trey Banks, 10, pointed and said, "That's a reflex scope."

Staff Sgt. Neal Scott was stunned. "How did you know that?" he asked.

"I play Black Ops," Trey said with a shrug, referring to a popular video game.

If the kids were scared by anything over by the explosives table, they didn't show it.

On display was an artillery shell with a cell phone taped to it.

"The bad guy can call and make it explode," a MacDill airman told the kids.

"Do you guys play a lot of Call of Duty?" one boy asked the adults, referring to another video game.

They did.

Kris Keyser, who works with special-needs families at the readiness center, smiled at it all.

"They need to know what their parents go through," she said. "This gives them a snapshot."

Isaiah Solan, 10, said his parents have deployed in the past. He doesn't like it very much.

"There's worries," Solan said, "I try not to think about it."

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3432.

MacDill eases kids' fears of parents' deployment 02/10/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 10, 2011 11:18pm]
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