By Katie Tame, MS and Vicki Lane, MSW, LCSWA
(Hope For The Warriors® Staff Members)
Camp Hometown Heroes has made it their mission to embrace the children of the fallen. The inaugural launch of Camp Hometown Heroes was June 22, 2013 and more than 60 children (ages 7-17) of fallen U.S service members arrived at YMCA Camp Matawa in Campbellsport, Wisconsin. The camp affords these children the traditional camp experience emphasizing friendship and fun, but also incorporates personal growth and healing. While traditional camp activities such as campfires, horseback riding, swimming and team sports are offered, the camp also arranges for pediatric grief counselors from Kyle’s Korner to provide counseling, group support and art therapy.
Camp Hometown Heroes Co-Founder, Neil Willenson, reached out to Hope For The Warriors® with a request: to deliver on-site training in military cultural competency and the unique experiences and needs of the military child to the more than forty YMCA camp counselors staff from Kyle’s Korner.
Hope For The Warriors® was honored to partner with this nonprofit organization and develop a specialized training for the YMCA camp staff who dedicated themselves to providing a fun, memorable, and therapeutic experience for these military children who have sacrificed so much and endured great loss.
THE IMPORTANCE OF MILITARY CULTURAL COMPETENCY
Did you know that only 1% of the American population serves in the military? As a result, a 2012 survey indicates that 41% of military families felt that their community did not embrace opportunities to help the military child (source). With 70% of military families living in civilian communities and not on military installations (source), most of us have, or will, professionally or personally encounter a member of the military.
Many civilian professionals who work with veterans, active duty service members, and military families are encouraged, and in some cases even required, to participate in military cultural competency training. Even service members are provided with cultural competency training so that they can quickly adapt, communicate and honor the culture and traditions of foreign communities they are working within.
Clinicians, advocates, educators, co-workers, friends, and family members alike, who are committed to the welfare of our military families, quickly recognize the value and benefits of increasing their knowledge of military culture. The overarching goal is to effectively communicate, engage, understand and successfully interact with the individual. Here are some examples:
v Patient-to-client rapport can be fostered, and as a result, clinicians can provide better tools, resources and effective treatment options
v Greater understanding of the unique experiences of military families by being able to place them in a larger context and realize that military service is not merely a job, but a way of life
v Shared vocabulary contributes to effective and efficient communication and interactions, which in turn minimizes the need to explain military terminology and acronyms
v Cultivate empathy and implement supportive measures
v Recognize the unique stressors and/or challenges that military members, spouses and children face as opposed to their civilian peers
v Deepen appreciation for service and sacrifice through awareness
v Establish and inspire community support for healthy reintegration
CONTENT and DESIGN
While each Hope For The Warriors® Military Cultural Competency training program can be tailored to fit an organization’s purpose or objectives, the course generally presents a basic understanding of the values, structure, policies and expectations of the military. Featured information includes, demographics and statistics, the military branches of service along with their missions and core values, rank and structure, active versus reserve status components, military terminology and acronyms, traditions and processes, and the many individual and family sacrifices that come with military service (deployment, injuries, suicide, death).
The training designed for Camp Hometown Heroes placed a special emphasis on the military child, their unique experiences, and how practitioners are approaching clinical work with grieving military children with trauma-focused care in mind.
It is our belief that profound and impactful learning occurs when the individual is an active participant in the process. Therefore, the training was developed and conducted through an experiential framework in an effort to avoid merely imparting information, but instead, to engage the participants. This was achieved by utilizing a wide array of original creative activities and integrating a variety of learning and teaching styles.
We had great fun crafting an environment modeled after the military branches and culture. This was the first step in placing the group members “in the shoes” of military personnel. This replication included dividing the group members into a branch of service and assigning them with a rank. They were responsible for not only becoming experts on their respective military branch, but learned very quickly that there are very specific responsibilities and duties assigned to each rank and that hierarchical order is essential to the successful functioning of such a large scale organization.
We then put them “in the shoes” of the military child. We asked them to imagine not seeing their mothers, fathers, uncles, brothers or sisters for months or even years at a time, especially during crucial developmental years; and we disrupted them by relocating them around the room throughout the training, which exemplified the inconvenience that most military children feel due to moving on average at least 9 times by the time they are 18. Personal stories were threaded throughout the training as a means to not only authenticate the content, but to also create a deeper emotional connection. We were very privileged to interview a former Military Child of the Year, Nicole Goetz (USAF), and shared her insight, experiences, challenges, and rewards growing up as a military child.
One of Nicole’s particularly insightful remarks was in reference to how her family spoke about deployments and the inherent risks that come with military service:
“Before my father’s first deployment to the Middle East, he sat my 7 year old brother and 14 year old self down and asked us who would we want to be our guardian in the event something were to happen to him while he was overseas.
My brother and I matured a lot that day. We stayed calm when discussing these matters with my parents because that was the best thing we could do. Our job as kids is to be strong and supportive for our parents. We could not change the course of events that were about to take place, but we could have a mature attitude and hope and pray for the best.
This and the other questions that followed were not ones a child should have to answer, but unfortunately, these risks and consequences are something military families must face.”
For civilian children this conversation is relatively foreign, but for the nearly 2 million military children, difficult conversations such as this and the subsequent challenging realities are commonplace. They face orders to move, deployments, integrating into new schools (to name a few) but they meet these encounters with pride, maturity and resiliency.
There are many valuable online training resources available including the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (source), Essential Learning (source), Center For Deployment Psychology (source).
If your group is interested in specialized on-site Military Cultural Competency training please contact Hope For The Warriors®. Please review the testimonials below.
“We really enjoyed our time with Vicki and Katie! They presented the Military Cultural Competency training with tons of energy and passion. We were all very engaged for the whole time and learned a ton. The training really helped all of us non-military folks have a sneak peek into the unique challenges and needs of military families and children. Vicki and Katie truly helped us prepare to serve this amazing group of kids at Camp Hometown Heroes. Thanks so much for all the work you both do for these amazing families!
–Wendy Mieske, Camp Operations Director, YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee-Camp Matawa
“Thank you to you and Vicki for everything you contributed to Camp Hometown Heroes…the week would not have been as complete without you. I know all of us, counselors especially, gained valuable knowledge from you in how to respond to our campers. Many of their parents have expressed gratitude for the changes they see in their children since they returned home. Finally many of them are facing what they couldn’t face before and are more able to move forward with their lives. They gained a valuable perspective, not to mention many news friends and bonds with camp. I think they’d come back tomorrow. Thank you so much for your wonderful presence. “
-Debbie Paschke, Director, Camp Hometown Heroes
Below are some recommended websites that will help you become more aware of the issues that military children face and the resources available to them.
Military KIDS Connect
Our Military Kids