For many Americans, that weekend marks the start of summer. Families and friends will gather at pools, beaches, and backyards to grill, swim, and have a good time. Some will attend a Memorial Day parade or lay flowers on a family member’s grave.
For thousands of children and families, this three day weekend has a much more somber significance.
About 7,000 service men and women have been killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Other troops have been lost stateside through training accidents.
These brave men and women left behind mothers, fathers, siblings, and children.
Kids Of America's Heroes give up and deal with so much, simply by accident of their birth. These kids move around the country and world, saying goodbye to family and friends and teachers every three or so years. They often live far from their extended families. And they routinely send one or both parents into harm's way. Deployments are tumultuous, stressful, and usually end in the joy of reunion.
What happens when a deployment ends suddenly? With uniformed service members and a chaplain arriving at your door? Too often, Kids Of America's Heroes lose a parent as a result of military service. With this loss, even the familiarity of belonging to a military community is often lost.
Military communities are really like families. We watch out for each other, boost our buddies up during hard time, and find fun even in the toughest of situations. Our children often attend schools together, use the on-base medical services, and live in planned neighborhoods on military bases.
When the service member passes away in the line of duty, military families can still access those same services, but with a few caveats. Housing allowance continues for one year. Children can attend the same school, until they move away.
With the loss of their military member, though, the family is suddenly experiencing something outside the “normal” way of military life. It can be hard to relate to this tragedy, for adults and children. Family is often hundreds or thousands of miles away from the last duty station. Or maybe a job opportunity for the surviving parent causes the family to move.
However it happens, our Kids Of America's Heroes are separated from the life and community that they have always known and relied on. They are in a new location without the military to fall back on. And they are now without one of their parents.
These are Gold Star Kids, the title given to children who have lost a parent in the line of military service.
Our Gold Star Kids give up so much at such a young age for our country.
Now imagine if our schools knew just a small piece of the struggle our Gold Star Children are dealing with. Or if a teacher knew any time Kids Of America's Heroes stepped foot into the classroom.
Imagine all of the extra help and supports that could be offered to these brave children. Mental health supports, introductions to community groups or social networks, guidance toward medical resources, assistance with registering for school, and extra academic supports to help fill gaps are all well within the realm of possibility. But only if teachers know that Kids Of America's Heroes or Gold Star Kids are in the school.
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This Memorial Day weekend, remember the littlest heroes who lost one of the most important people in their lives in service for our country.