FORT LEE, Va. – “Military Brat” is a title of honor bestowed on kids who travel the world with their uniformed parents, with some even following the family tradition of military service as adults.

April is set aside as the Month of the Military Child to recognize the unique life challenges children in military communities face. These youngsters – even at an early age – have the power, strength and experience to face and tackle just about anything.

Frequent moves are a fact of military life. For “military brats,” it requires sacrifice. Close friendships are usually short-term. They’re constantly “the new kid” in school, and sometimes they must live apart from mom or dad because military duties called them away. It is a difficult burden that is subject to being overlooked or misunderstood.

Military children lie awake at night enduring the same operational deployment worries as their parents. These youngsters are expected to support the same missions simply by understanding the facets of military life, which often include putting individual and family needs second after duty.

DOD acknowledges this heroic sacrifice annually during the Month of the Military Child, established by former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger in 1986.

Purple is the color representing all military children as a DOD combination of Army Black and Gold; Navy Blue and Gold; Air Force Ultramarine Blue and Gold; Marines Scarlet and Gold; and Coast Guard White, with shades “CG Blue and Red.”

Over a typical military career, the youngster of a service member will move 10 times or more while growing up. Military families move at least three times more often than civilian counterparts.

Military youths experience different cultures and languages around the world. Some may even have a parent from a foreign nation like Korea or Germany, which makes their already unique military life even more exclusive and distinctive to their friends.

The DOD estimates there are more than 900,000 Army dependents, 400,000 Air Force dependents, nearly 300,000 Navy and approximately 118,000 Marine dependents, serving alongside their uniformed parents.

For just one month, everyone can take a moment to walk in a military child’s shoes to not only understand what they sacrifice but also how they contribute to our community. Take the time to thank our military youths through social media posts and whatever creative ways you can think of while maintaining safe social distancing practices.

CYS celebrates 40th

This year’s MOMC coincides with the 40th anniversary of the Army Child and Youth Services program, which traces its beginnings to the creation of the first day care accommodations for military children.

With the theme “Journey to Excellence,” the CYS anniversary celebrates the program’s transition from rather humble beginnings to becoming a leader in childcare. Army Child Development Centers maintain a 97 percent accreditation rate, compared to about 10 percent across America, according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the industry’s primary accreditation organization.

The Army began offering childcare in 1980 when more women entered the workforce in large numbers. In the earliest years, childcare in the Army and elsewhere consisted primarily of custodial care: keeping the young ones safe, fed and rested.

When the Fort Leavenworth child development center opened, for instance, it had 40 cribs inside an old military school building. Other posts used cleaned out stables, Quonset huts and other borrowed spaces for childcare. Annual staff turnover was often 300 percent due to low pay.

That changed in 1980 when the Army hired M.A. Lucas to lead the Army Child Development Services System. She held that position for 31 years.

The General Accounting Office reviewed military childcare programs in 1982, and the following year the Army established regulations for child development services.

Programs were developed for “latchkey kids” – youngsters who went home after school and had no adult supervision until a parent returned – which was a new concept in the 1980s.

In 1989, Army daycare evolved further, with the creation of the Military Child Care Act, which improved the quality of care and ensured affordability for military parents. Among the reforms were standardized facility design, safety protocols such as installation of video cameras and recorders, inspections, improved compensation, and advanced training for providers. 

Leaders also looked to the NAEYC whose accreditation standards became the goal for the Army’s CDCs.

The Fort Leavenworth child development center became the first to receive accreditation, a change that rippled through all youth facilities, advancing the Army’s daycare standards and drawing national attention. A 2002 Senate report categorized the Army program as “a model for the nation for providing high-quality affordable childcare.”

The CYS tagline, “Support for Army Families Found Here,” reflects the program’s mission: To integrate and deliver base support to reduce the conflict between parental responsibilities and unit mission requirements and enable combat readiness for a globally responsive Army.