Swanton, Ohio --
For over two centuries, we have recognized the members of our armed forces, our Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guard as our nation's defenders and heroes.
Our service men and women are not, however, the only ones serving this great nation. The parents, spouses and children of this country's war-fighters have served our nation honorably and dutifully since the creation of the Continental Army in 1775.
In January, 2013, the Department of Defense reported that the U. S. Armed Forces is made up of more than two million active duty, guard and reserve service members. The DOD has also reported that there are about 1.8 million children, ranging in age from newborn to 18, registered in the military system.
"It takes a family to support a service member, but children of military parents give far more to our nation then they are generally given credit." said Col. Steven S. Nordhaus, 180th Fighter Wing commander. "When our Airmen deploy, they are not the only ones serving our nation."
The 180th Fighter Wing is made up of nearly 1,000 families with approximately 969 children registered in the personnel system.
Our military children, commonly referred to as Military Brats throughout the military community, are as dedicated as their military parents, supporting their parents throughout demanding careers. They adjust to long, inconsistent work schedules, silently struggle through training and real-world deployments, adapt to new homes and bases every few years because of changes in duty stations, and may even be asked to explore new languages, cultures and customs if the family receives orders to be stationed at an overseas location.
Known as a term of endearment and respect within the military community, the term Military Brat is defined by Mary Edwards Wertsch, author of the book Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress, as the children of a military parent or parents serving full-time in the armed forces. She also states that the term can refer to the unique subculture and lifestyle of American Military Brats.
Young children, too young to assume household responsibilities or to understand why a parent is deployed or why the family is moving to a new base, bear the stress of the unknown and confusion. Older children are often asked to step up and assume the duties and responsibilities of the deployed parent on top of the already demanding school, sports, other extracurricular activities and the regular home chores, while trying to understand why their parent is gone or why they have to leave their friends for a change in duty station.
"My children have moved six times and said goodbye to me during more than a dozen long-term deployments over the years," explains Nordhaus. "One of my sons, at age four, would not talk to me during my last deployment. He refused because he thought I left his mom, brothers and sister and could not figure out why I would do such a thing."
Self-proclaimed as a 200 year-old American subculture with millions of members and described by some researchers as one of America's oldest, least well-known and largely unseen social groups, are the children of our nation's service men and women. Some researchers refer to the children of our service men and women as a modern nomadic subculture.
Our military children did not choose life in the armed forces and the structured, yet continually evolving, changing lifestyle. Yet they are expected to adapt, overcome and remain resilient throughout it all, supporting their combat-ready parents with all of their hearts. A kind of support that is often bigger and more valuable than their little bodies. The kind of support a uniformed member of our military could not succeed without.
Our nation, and we as members of the world's leading military force, expect so much of our children, our biggest supporters, but often forget to honor and recognize everything they do for our country. Military brats are just as important to the mission as the military member themselves. Without their love, support and acceptance of military life, our uniformed parents would not be able to give 100 percent to the defense of our great nation.
The DOD has been recognizing our military children, but it wasn't until 1986 when Secretary of Defense, Caspar W. Weinberger, officially designated April as the Month of the Military Child, nationally recognizing the sacrifices and unwavering support these children give to their parents.
There are many recognition and support programs for military children throughout the DOD and within each branch of the armed forces. Most major military installations have Soldier and Airmen and Family Readiness Program offices, specifically designed to support military families in times of need ranging from family emergencies, deployments, reintegration, recognition, etc. Additionally, many services, states and installations have unique ways of honoring their families and children.
The Air National Guard implemented the Hometown Heroes Salute Campaign in 2009, honoring Air National Guard members and their families. The campaign focuses on the thousands of Airmen who have deployed since 9/11 including, depending on the length the uniformed member was deployed, their children may receive a set of dog tags, navy blue or ABU cinch sacks showcasing the HHS logo for their service and support.
"Our Airman often deploy at a moment's notice, sometimes for a month, and sometimes for up to a year or more," said Nordhaus. "They have served their country around the world, in support of contingency operations and here at home with humanitarian efforts and in support of our homeland defense and their families have served right alongside of them."
Though many great programs exist throughout the DOD, to ensure our Military Brats are honored, Mr. Duke Wheeler and his wife, Martha, local community members and owners of Wheeler Farms in Whitehouse, Ohio, want to make the recognition of Military Brats more well-known on a national level.
After learning about the lifestyle and hardships that Military Brats often face throughout their careers as children of military members, Wheeler was awestruck by how significant their contributions and sacrifices really were.
"I met Bob Holliker, a Military Brat who also raised two Military Brats himself," explained Wheeler. "He told me his life story and all of the travel he experienced as a child and young adult. In the end, I felt like he had no real home."
Holliker, a Whitehouse, Ohio resident and Military Brat turned service member, retired from U.S. Air Force as a Lt. Col. in 1988 after serving one tour in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, but it wasn't until a few years ago when he read Pat Conroy's powerful introduction to Wertsch's book that he truly began to understand his service and sacrifice, the service and sacrifice of the millions of other Military Brats scattered around the world, and the service and sacrifice of his own two children throughout his military career.
"It was when I read this through my tears," said Holliker. "That I knew we need to honor our kids, our beautiful Military Brats."
Holliker then set out to research how our nation honors our Military Brats only to realize that an official form of honor and recognition does not exist. Working with local elected officials to authorize a Congressional Lapel Pin specifically for Military Brats led to having two bills introduced only to die in committee. Congressman Bob Latta, Ohio's 5th District, is planning to reintroduce the legislation later this summer.
"These children are required to sacrifice based on their parent's desire to serve," said Wheeler, local community member and military supporter. "It is important that they get recognized for their service."
Wheeler, a long-time military supporter and son of a former National Guard member, has done his best to support the service men and women of northwest Ohio and southeast Mich. and those deployed around the world. The Whitehouse Christmas Tree Farm, just one of four branches of Wheeler Farms, began Operation Evergreen almost 13 years ago, collecting and sending hundreds of Christmas Trees, cards and decorations to our troops deployed overseas as well as donating free trees each year to our local troops and military families.
This year, in an effort to make his friend's dream of honoring our military children a reality, Wheeler is taking his support of our troops to the max, coordinating events to honor our Vietnam veterans and their children. The events will take place at International Park in downtown Toledo and at the University of Toledo's Savage Hall, June 5-9, 2013.
"This is the biggest event that I have been involved in," said Wheeler. "A long overdue welcome home celebration for our Vietnam era veterans."
Not only does Wheeler intend to have as many Vietnam veterans recognized as possible, he also intends to have as many children of Vietnam veterans honored for their service during a very controversial time in American history.
"Not only did the veterans suffer," explained Wheeler. "Their children also suffered ridicule for what the public thought their parents were doing and it's never too late to recognize them for their sacrifice."
Though the DOD annually marks the month of April on their calendars as the Month of the Military Child, Wheeler hopes that his events and the local recognition of military children of past wars will be a stimulus to ensure that Military Brats of all wars and conflicts, past, present and future get the honor and recognition they deserve.
To honor the children of our Vietnam veterans, Wheeler has had a special military challenge coin designed and produced that is specific to the Vietnam era. The intent is to give the coins to each veteran attending the events in June so that they may present the coins to their children as a sign of their appreciation.
A military challenge coin is defined as a small coin or medallion bearing a military unit's insignia or emblem to be carried by the unit members. There are many legends depicting the history of military challenge coins, some dating back to World War I, others World War II, and the Korean War, but all describe the coins as proof of membership to a unit or specific organization. The tradition of military challenge coins has spread through all branches of the military over the years and are given to service members and civilians as a form of special recognition by a unit commander.
"Honoring the service of our children is important," said Maj. Gary Bentley, 180th Fighter Wing executive officer. "Recognizing our Military Brats with something that has been embedded in our military's history and tradition is only fitting,"
As Wheeler and his team of over 25 planning committee members continue to fine tune the details of next month's events, they aren't sure just how many veterans and their families will attend. The planning team would like to see and recognize as many as possible.
"We have safety and freedom because of our military," said Wheeler. "It is an honor to support them in any way we can. We are all family."
For more information on or to be involved with the Vietnam Era Veterans Appreciation Event, visitwww.toledoveteransevent.com
or visit the official Facebook page @Toledo Ohio Veterans Appreciation Event