Growing up next to Fort Drum, New York, I attended Indian River Central School District where 66 percent of students are from a military background. My childhood was made up of friends who were in my life one year and gone the next due to frequent Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders. The friends who remained endured cycle after cycle of deployments from elementary through high school. While all of us went on with our studies and extracurricular activities, the children of deployed parents were facing challenges that they rarely shared with those of us who got to go home to both parents each night. In 2011, the Indian River Drama Club offered a glimpse into the lives of children whose childhoods were shaped by deployment.
“In My Shoes,” is a documentary drama written by playwright Craig S. Thornton based off of over 200 pages of interviews conducted with students from the drama club at Indian River High School. Stories presented in the play speak to fears about a parent not making it home, the stresses of young men suddenly expected to be the “man of the house,” parents coming home to children who are virtually strangers, and attempts to go in with the day-to-day like everything is normal. But along with the struggles, “In my Shoes” also presents the positives of living in a community that rallies around service members and their families; having understanding friends who have gone, or are going through, the same things; getting to welcome a parent home; and spending time reconnecting once deployment is over.
Being a part of creating and presenting this play gave military children a unique platform to share with their parents, teachers, peers, and community members their uneasiness over a deployment, while also conveying how proud they are of their mom’s and/or dad’s military service. I feel lucky to have been able to watch a showing of “In My Shoes” and gain a much more in-depth understanding of what military children go through during the deployments they rarely talk about. Their personal stories of sacrifice, strength, and resilience not only pulled at heartstrings, but deepened every viewer’s understanding of, and empathy towards, military communities. My hope is that “In My Shoes” is not the only one of its kind, and that other schools, especially the highly military connected, are taking the the time to get to know their military children better and offering them the opportunity to portray their stories, while at the same time enlightening others about the triumphs and tribulations of military life.
In honor of National Military Appreciation Month and the Month of the Military Caregiver, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) Voice Awards and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s Hidden Heroes are co-hosting a blog week to support America’s service members, veterans, and their families (SMVF). Each day from May 22 to May 27, members of SAMHSA’s SMVF Technical Assistance Center, operated by Policy Research Associates, Inc., will post a blog responding to the Blog Week’s prompts. Monday will focus on Families and Caregivers, Tuesday will focus on Individuals and Families, Wednesday will focus on Entertainment, Thursday will focus on Communities, Friday will focus on Organizations, and Saturday will focus on Memorial Day. Check the PRA blog daily for new posts and follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #VoiceAwards.