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As Pa. Air Guardsmen prep for deployment, military children are a constant focus

The daughter of a 111th Attack Wing member cuddles with a teddy bear, given to her by the Horsham Air Guard Station Airman & Family Readiness Center, at her home in Philadelphia, Pa., Nov. 30, 2016. The National Guard has programs in place to help ease stress on the children of deployed military members. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Andria Allmond)

The daughter of a 111th Attack Wing member cuddles with a teddy bear, given to her by the Horsham Air Guard Station Airman & Family Readiness Center, at her home in Philadelphia, Pa., Nov. 30, 2016. The National Guard has programs in place to help ease stress on the children of deployed military members. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Andria Allmond)

HORSHAM AIR GUARD STATION, Pa. -- The 111th Attack Wing's accelerating deployment preparations are following suit with the swiftly-approaching new year. But amid exhaustive checklists, training programs and item acquisitions, the wellbeing of military children remains a focus for members of the Pa. National Guard.

In a excerpt from a recent interview with DoD News, the Defense Department Office of Family Policy, Children and Youth, and Special Needs Director Barbara Thompson stated, "When we think of our military members and the values that they embody, such as courage and duty and ethics and loyalty, those same attributes are key to our military family members."

But some of those courageous family members might be the youngest and most significantly affected by deployment. For new and seasoned deployers, family wellness - especially of young children - is a nearly ubiquitous worry. And while a valid concern, the Guard has programs in place to help lessen the stress.

According to resource material supplied by the installation's Psychological Health Program Director Mark Obenour, although varying by age, personality, life experiences, health and relationships, children commonly undergo common deployment-stage experiences:

- mixed emotions, including anger, sadness, fear, pride, excitement and anxiety;

- overwhelming emotions that may lead to numb feelings;

- grief from the emotional and physical absence;

- difficulty sleeping due to strong emotions and household changes that make it challenging to relax;

- and feeling less safe and secure due to the change in family structure.

To counter these common troubles, the Airmen & Family Readiness Center here designed programs aimed at assessing, assisting and maintaining the coping skills of military children.

And help can be obtained through a phone call.

Prior to a deployment, Anna Richar, the Horsham Air Guard Station Airman & Family Readiness Center (A&FRC) program manager, collects contact information for conducting morale calls to the member's loved ones. It's during these calls that she can detect adjustment issues within families.

"If we encounter any concerns for help when speaking with the member's loved ones, we contact Military OneSource for them," she said. "Military OneSource has counselors located in all regions that provide professional assistance during difficult times of separation."

Richar explained that for children, counselors from Military OneSource can lend a hand using a multitude of methods. For example, trained professionals sometimes integrate coping skills into the child's school program, the member's host unit may conduct a group event for children or one-on-one counseling may be utilized. The unit's military members, include the A&FRC, may also take part assisting the child in programs that help enable coping skills and ease stress.

In fact, a deployed member's military family can prove vital in strengthening the support network for the family at home.

Senior Airman Ameera Blake, a 111th Force Support Squadron personnelist here, is not only preparing for her first deployment, she's preparing to leave her first born in the care of her mother for nearly six months.  Blake said she is optimistic that her military family will serve as a stanchion for her daughter. "We're family here and I'm sure that they'll reach out to check that everything is okay while I'm gone. It's going to be tough though."

So while military deployments are almost guaranteed to produce stress for the little loved ones at home, Guardsmen can count on a cadre of support for their petite patriots.

"Our military children will know that they are never alone," said Richar. "They have a support team with them the whole time; we make sure they know we're here for them."