Kids learn lessons in deployment at DAFB

DOVER — Brooklyn Sturino, a wide-eyed 5-year-old, was asked where she would like to be deployed if the situation ever came up.

Her response, simply stated – “Hawaii.” Ah, the innocence of youth.

She was among more than 240 children from ages 5- through 15-years-old that took part in this year’s Dover Air Force Base Operation KUDOS/TUDOS (Kids/Teacher Understanding Deployment Operations at the base’s Youth Center on Tuesday.

Unfortunately for Brooklyn Sturino, there was no relaxing vacation in paradise in her future at KUDOS/TUDOS. Rather, her group was “deploying” to Djibouti in Africa and Jordan in western Asia.

It was a sure bet that by the end of the day on Tuesday she had learned some of what deployment was all about through a series of kid friendly activities and exhibitions around the Dover Air Force Base Youth Center.

It is all designed to make a loved one’s deployment “a little less scary.”

“This helps them to understand the word deployment so that when their parents are talking and they hear the words ‘I’m being deployed,’ they can put some sort of activity to that word and it’s not just a word that’s floating out there,” said Kristy Grove, teen coordinator for the DAFB Youth Program.

“I feel it gives them an opportunity that once they’ve gone through this that if a parent was to bring up deployment in a conversation that it’s a great conversation and it’s a good time to talk about it.”

There was a lot for the young “airmen” to absorb over a couple of hours at KUDOS/TUDOS.

Clad in tan shirts, floppy camouflage hats with dog tags dangling around their necks, the children started the day absorbing information at an intelligence briefing.

There they learned top secret information about their operations in Djibouti and Jordan.

Then they learned about their enemies – the teachers – who were planning to “make mandatory singalongs and get rid of recess” and “add more homework.”

Lt. Col. Marshall Preston was among those giving the children their first lessons in deployment.

“This is typically just the front end of it, what it looks like when you go through a processing line and we try to make it fun and then the teachers just sort of drive home what the parents are being asked to do, what it kind of looks like and how it feels,” he said.

“Of course, it’s done in a fun and festive way with some fantastic support from our 50 volunteers.”

Once the children received their intelligence briefing it was off to the field, where they tried on all kinds of combat gear, including gas masks, got their faces painted in camouflage, learned about weaponry and conquered an obstacle course with NERF guns in hand.

Tristan Wicklund, a 6-year-old, said he already knows all about deployment, but he was participating in the program because he thought it sounded like fun.

“My dad is deployed,” he said. “He goes to Afghanistan and it’s hard when he has to go away. It’s hard for my mom to work by herself when he’s gone.

“This [KUDOS/TUDOS] is pretty cool. I’d like to deploy to Seattle because I like the Seattle Seahawks [football] team.”

The participants also got the chance to meet paramedics, police, a robotic bomb diffuser and got the see K-9 and fire safety demonstrations.

“This is a wonderful program,” said Pamela Delort, youth program assistant for the DAFB Youth Center. “This helps a lot of the children who have parents that are gone so they understand what it’s all about.”

Sue Holliday, director of the Community Readiness Staff at DAFB, said around 15 to 20 teachers also participated in Tuesday’s program.

“This helps the teachers understand what the kids are going through as they go through their school day,” she said. “This helps them understand why their kids are not happy or sad, so we’re trying to teach both sides of the team.”

In 2014 the organizers of the event changed the concept from a mobility line to a full deployment and training event.

Bonnie McGill, school age coordinator at the Youth Center, founded the youth deployment program at DAFB around 11 years ago. She said it has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade.

She said what she really enjoys is watching them finish off the last steps of the program at the Youth Center.

“When they come through this door [at the Youth Center], it’s ‘Welcome home,’” Ms. McGill said.

Naturally, for these children, that’s always their favorite time as well.

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