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For Military Children, 9/11 Is A Way Of Life

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 The 9/11 Memorial outside the Pentagon, which consists of benches representing each life lost there that day interspersed with trees. Children of military families based at nearby Marine Corps Base Quantico say they think about 9/11 constantly, especially when their parents are deployed. 
Alyson Hurt (http://www.flickr.com/photos/alykat/5682698982/)
 The 9/11 Memorial outside the Pentagon, which consists of benches representing each life lost there that day interspersed with trees. Children of military families based at nearby Marine Corps Base Quantico say they think about 9/11 constantly, especially when their parents are deployed. 

 

Sept. 11 has been an ongoing event for children of military service members, many of whom have seen their parents deploy multiple times to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ashton Stout's father has been deployed a dozen times since September 11, 2001. At 17, the senior at Middle-High School at Marine Corps Base Quantico says her father has missed most of her milestone days.

"If you're going to middle school, first day of high school. You want both your parents to be there," Ashton says.

Tears stream down her cheeks as she remembers the mantra she used to recite every day. 

"He's going to be home, he's got a job to be done, and he'll be ok," she says.

Educators struggle with how to teach 9/11

Each of the almost 300 children this school has a personal and profound connection to September 11, even though most are too young to remember the details of that day. 

"They're living through Iraq, they're living through Afghanistan. It may not be 9/11 but for them right now, this is their 9/11," says Paul Roy, who runs the Marine Corps Junior ROTC program on base.  

For educators, many of whom have served active duty in the military, talking to their students about that day can be delicate. Some children don't want to watch the news at all, while others obsessively pull up places on Google Earth to feel closer to their parents. Some withdraw while others act out. 

Social studies teacher Robert Hume, who has also served in Iraq in the past decade, shows full segments of the news from Sept. 11, 2001 to his classes. 

"They never watched the news footage as it occurred, just snippets here and there," he says. "To actually watch 20 minutes of this video, it's pretty horrifying.

"For me it's important as a teacher they see that, that they understand this is what happened to us as a country, this is why your parents are doing what they're doing," he adds.

Hume usually sticks to the issues in class: the impact of the Patriot Act and what global terrorism means. He also spends time correcting misinformation, such as some students' belief that Iraqis attacked the United States on 9/11. 

The topic can be equally trying for teachers, as they deal with their own emotions over what happened. Judith Ward says she dreads talking to her students about that day.

"Our children didn't ask for any of this, didn't have anything to do with this," she says, her words streaming together as she begins to cry. "And that is my concern -- trying to protect them, trying to get them to understand how cruel the world can be..." 

Children cope with having to prepare for the worst

Alternately, Roy -- the ROTC instructor -- confronts his students' situations head on.

"In our discussions, we bring up the fact that when your parents do go away, you need to understand, in the business that we're in, we may not come back," he says. 

His approach isn't just about being tough. He also remembers the terrible toll of returning from active duty in 1983, when his unit we lost 241 Marines. "We were not thinking, when we left our loved ones, that six months later coming back we would have 241 funerals," he says. "It was devastating."

These military children refer to 9/11 as "the day that everything changed." It meant telephone calls instead of hugs and care packages instead of outings. They've developed their own ways of coping. Quinnton Richman says he would draw pictures of his father every time he deployed...

"My dad kicking butt in Iraq and Afghanistan, shooting missiles, lighting it up," he says. "I couldn't imagine my life without my dad, and I know so many kids have had to deal with that. It pains me to think of it." 

In class if 9/11 came up he would start another drawing.

"It made the sadness go away," he says.

9/11's effects are a way of life

Students at Middle-High School say when a classmate is absent for a few days, they understand it's because one of their parents is deploying. And they tread very carefully when asking each other how a parent is, says 17-year-old Ronald Harold.

"If I asked someone did you hear from your mom, and she was deployed, and they said 'well ...' I would cut them off and say 'well she's probably working on the letter right now,'" he says. "So they don't get the full thought across. You cut them off before the thought is processed."

Ronald says he thinks about 9/11 a lot.

 "Every time I see the number 9-11 whether it's on the clock and it's coincidence, it's not a number anymore, you sit there and think about it for a little bit," he says. 

He says he thinks about the chain of events on that day: about whether someone missed something before the terrorists boarded the planes, if the whole world changed because just one person that noticed something and said, 'It's no big deal.' 

That's a lot for a 17-year-old to carry, but Ronald says he's gotten used to it; he sees military service as part of his present and his future. "I don't mind carrying the burden," he says. "I want to go into the Marine Corps and serve my country." 

 

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