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  1. Opinion

Help keep deployed parents connected

Published Nov. 10, 2012

Today on Veterans Day, we salute those who have served and currently serve our country by risking their own lives so that we might be free — free to enjoy a Sunday afternoon football game. Football is often described in terms of warfare: warriors, battle, throw the bomb, blitz. We, as players on the field, wear uniforms and helmets. We even bat around the term "sudden death" as if scoring fewer points than our opponents will terminate our existence.

However, at the end of the day I am not a real warrior but a professional athlete. The long hours, physical collisions and cross-country trips multiple times a month can take their toll, but the reality is, these "hardships" not only pale in comparison, they become petty when compared to what soldiers in Afghanistan experience. They are separated from their families by oceans for months, not knowing when they will have the simple joy of tucking in their children and kissing them goodnight. Along with protecting our great nation, our troops struggle to preserve their family structure when deployed away from home.

It is a struggle that soldiers have known since the Revolution. I was shown a letter that Samil Cooper wrote to his wife in 1775:

Dear Maddam

My Respects to you & Children hoping they are all well and will Continue So till I Return I wrote to you that I Should Come home this Summer ... and hope in Due time to See you again tell our Little Children that Dadde has not forget them & that they must Learn their books well I have Sent them Some Paper to make them Bonets from your Ever Loving Husband

Samll Cooper

I Part with a Kiss

July 23, 1775

Like all good parents, Cooper offers encouragement and a little gift, some paper to make a bonnet, and reminds them to do their homework. Today the problem is the same — how to maintain strong family bonds across seas and keep family ties strong through distance and time. Today's soldier has better tools: phones, Internet, email and Skype — instant communication. How do moms and dads use these tools to maintain bonds and family structure while deployed overseas? How can troops maximize the limited time they have to communicate, by phone or online, with their children and spouse at home? With a deployed parent, the family can be consumed with their daily lives of school, work and paying the bills. The family members at home are asked to do more tasks because the family structure has been temporarily redefined.

Today I am announcing the formation of the Jackson in Action 83 Foundation to help U.S. military servicemen and servicewomen stay connected with their children during their deployments and raise community awareness of the relational issues existing between deployed U.S. service members and their children. We are working to find the most effective ways for parents to stay connected to their kids while they are fighting for our freedom.

I am a child of the military, and this foundation is close to my heart. Both my mother and father served bravely in the armed services. My mom's enlistment was only a few years, but my dad served 21 years. As a child, I recall how much I missed him during a four-month deployment to Panama. Later, my family was fortunate to be able to travel with my father when he was stationed in Germany for three years. Through our travels, I saw firsthand families torn apart: mothers and fathers who were not able to be with their family for many months at a time, not only missing out on their child's growth but growing apart from the family roles, bonds and ties.

Challenges for today's parents are enormous: childhood obesity, bullying, social and mental disabilities, physical handicaps and illnesses, paying for education and the overall challenge to raise happy, healthy, responsible children. But being a parent deployed overseas takes child rearing to a whole other dimension. Please spend some time today, on Veterans Day, to look at our website (www.jacksoninaction83.org) for ways you can learn more about how you can help. Let's remember our nation's military men and women not only for their service and duty for our country, but also for their service and duty to their own families as they work to be not only good soldiers but great parents. Let's honor their efforts to raise healthy, happy kids and maintain strong marriages even as they are separated by thousands of miles. As soldier Cooper said 200 years ago, "Tell our little children that Daddy has not forgot them." Let us not forget the personal sacrifices that our brave men and women make.

Vincent Jackson is a two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver in his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the National Football League. Jackson has amassed more than 270 career receptions, 4,750 yards receiving and 37 touchdowns in his eight-year NFL career.

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