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
In
Their Shoes

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

Sesame Workshop