Military Teens Cope With Wartime Challenges
(April 25, 2010)
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky., April 22, 2010 – With a cocky grin and
larger-than-life presence, Cornelius Madison commands
attention when he walks down the high school hall here,
always with a hint of a swagger.|
|From left, Darien Crank,
Chelsea Jarvis and Cornelius Madison head to
class at Fort Campbell High School on Fort
Campbell, Ky., April 15, 2010.
Bumping fists and cracking jokes, Cornelius seems impervious
to stress or worry. It's only when discussing his deployed
mother in an interview does he reveal a small chink in his
otherwise impenetrable bravado.|
“As long I know she's alive, then, I'm good. But if I ever
get that call ....” His words drift off and he looks away,
unwilling to share his potential pain.
His mother, Army Staff Sgt. Asia Lowe, and stepfather, Army
Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Lowe, deployed to Afghanistan for a
year about a month ago, their second deployment in three
years. Cornelius and his two younger siblings are staying
with a family friend.
At 16, Cornelius has assumed the role of man of the house in
a home that isn't even his own.
“It's not easy, but I was brought up to keep going, no
matter what,” he said. “I have to do it for my Mom. I'm
really proud of her.”
Cornelius is one of the nearly 2 million American military
children and youth growing up in a decade marked by war.
He's also one of the some 900,000 military children whose
parents have deployed multiple times. These children endure
long separations from a parent who may be in harm's way,
frequent moves, and multiple new schools. They mark major
milestones, including graduations, prom nights and sports
events, either alone or without one or both of their
The challenges and stressors they endure would knock most
well-functioning adults to their knees, said Nancy Beale,
school psychologist for the Fort Campbell High School here.
“Yet these kids get up and come to school and maintain their
grades and do the best they can,” she said. “It blows me out
of the water. And it gives me faith in that concept we call
The ongoing Afghanistan and Iraq wars have taken their toll
on the post here. About two-thirds of the active-duty
soldiers assigned to Fort Campbell are slated to deploy by
fall, noted Bob Jenkins, a post spokesman. That's a big hit
to a post with a total soldier population of roughly 30,000.
While some of his peers take the deployments harder,
Cornelius takes the separations and moves – this is his
fifth so far -- in stride, shrugging them off as an
inevitable part of military life. “Other people have it
worse,” he said.
Cornelius' laid-back attitude may seem surprising to some,
but actually is the new norm for adolescents growing up in
the military, Beale noted.
“Adolescence is such a time of independence and breaking
away from their parents and being on their own,” she said.
“Taking on that adult role is what they're supposed to be
doing. They take pride in doing that, in holding it
That unflappable attitude among most adolescents, Beale
noted, is a marked difference from the reactions of younger
children. Younger children may exhibit deployment-induced
stress with sleep disturbances and regression, she said. But
for the majority of adolescents, she added, separations can
Still, becoming the “man of the house” can have its
drawbacks. Families with high-level needs, such as a
special-needs child or money issues, can grow too dependent
on a teen's assistance. “Then it goes from being, ‘I'm going
to take a role and help my family' to overburdening,” Beale
Separated from peers and unable to enjoy free time,
resentment can grow, she explained.
High school junior Chelsea Jarvis pitches in heavily at
home. Her father, Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Adam Jarvis,
is deployed with a Special Forces unit, and she often is
called on to help with her special-needs brother, Jacob. At
13, Jacob already has undergone seven brain surgeries and is
unable to talk.
Since her Dad's departure, the 17-year-old has taken on
tasks from bathing to changing diapers to babysitting her
“My mother can't do it all by herself,” she said, quickly
adding that she doesn't mind pitching in. “We pick up the
pieces when he's gone. It's just something we do.”
Chelsea was born after her father enlisted, and, like
Cornelius, has grown accustomed to her father's deployments,
which are briefer but more frequent than those experienced
by soldiers in other military occupational specialties.
“My Dad's missed a lot of milestones, but I'm not going to
blame him,” she said. “It's something you just have to get
used to, or you'll probably be a blubbering mess.”
While she admits to some concerns about her father's safety,
particularly in his line of work, it's unproductive to focus
on the death count and the statistics, she said.
“If you focus on that all the time, it's harder to keep
going,” she said. “I focus on what I'm doing here. I try to
Beale said the school invests a significant amount of time
and energy to ensure students like Chelsea have a plethora
of activities to keep them occupied, from sports to academic
clubs to social outlets. The small school of more than 700
students offers a jam-packed slate of activities, she added.
Students can pursue the typical sports teams; participate in
organizations such as Teens, Crime and Community or Future
Educators of America; satisfy their academic goals in
Homework Club or National Honor Society; and their more
creative outlets in the drama club, chorus or band.
Teens find strength in the activities as well as in the
camaraderie they foster, Beale noted. “We spend a lot more
of our efforts trying to build relationships with our
students through those avenues,” she said.
The one type of group parents won't find at the high school
is a deployment support group. Beale said she's found
they're more effective for elementary-age children. Younger
children enjoy the support a formal group may provide, while
older children benefit more from an active lifestyle, she
A recent Army study validated the school's efforts. The
study found that the No. 1 factor in mitigating deployment
stress for Army adolescents was their participation in
activities, such as sports, followed by a strong family
Peer groups, such as those formed through sports and clubs,
are vital for adolescents, Beale noted. “It's often a peer
group that alerts me to problems,” she said. “A friend
brings them to me much more often than a student comes to me
In any case, parents and teachers should be on the lookout
for significant changes in behavior, such as a drastic drop
in grades or withdrawal from family and friends, and then
engage the teen or seek help, Beale advised.
Darien Crank leans heavily on his football team, looking to
his buddies for support while his father, Army Sgt. Arthur
Carter, is deployed to Afghanistan. It's the father's third
deployment since he joined the Army six years ago.
“They know what it's like to be new and move around, and so
they're really welcoming and warm,” Darien said of the
military families here.
Unlike many children who grew up in the military, Darien is
well aware of a major shift in lifestyle; his father joined
when he was 12.
“At first it was weird with him being home every night and
then just leaving and being gone for two or three months at
a time,” the 18-year-old senior said. “That's the first time
he'd left for that long.”
On his first deployment to Iraq, Darien's father asked his
son to be the man of the house. Wanting to appear strong,
Darien didn't cry until his father left. The second time his
father deployed, he didn't cry at all.
“Now he's always gone,” Darien said. His father will miss
his prom, graduation and his sendoff to college this fall.
Darien plans to attend Tusculum College in neighboring
Tennessee on a football scholarship.
He relies on friends, he said, and has matured in his
“My dad understands he's gone a lot,” Darien said. When he
comes home, he added, his father gives him space and allows
him to continue his role as “man of the house” in some
capacity, a consideration he appreciates.
But the frequent separations take their toll on their
relationship, Darien admitted. He recalls his father
teaching him to ride bikes and play games, but his memories
stop short with his earlier childhood.
“He's been gone for so long, I can't even imagine our
relationship being really close,” he said.
Darien's concerns are common in a military society that,
over the past decade, has been confronted with frequent and
lengthy family absences, Beale said.
“The logistics of it get easier, and the idea,” she said.
“What I don't think is easier is the resentment of their
parent missing so many years.
“They know they can handle it, they know what they need to
do, and they know they'll be fine,” she continued. “But then
it becomes, ‘But, I'm tired. I'm tired of Dad missing
another soccer season. I'm tired of Mom not being here for
all the major holidays.'”
The lasting impact of the separations on military families
“I am worried more about the families themselves,” she said.
“I see a lot more splintering apart of husbands and wives,
which of course is absolutely the worst curveball you can
throw our students amongst all this other stuff they're
going through. That's what concerns me the most.”
However, Beale said she's also reassured by the adaptability
of military children and their ability to form deep
friendships quickly due to a fast-paced military life.
“There's an acceptance of a reality: ‘This is the Army way,'
or ‘It's Dad's job or Mom's job'” in the military, she said.
“Their ability to accept war and the role that their parent
plays for our country is very mature.”
It remains to be seen what the long-term effects of a decade
of war will have on military children, Beale said. But
whatever the future holds, they should be proud of what
they've already achieved.
“Some of that initiation by fire, that ‘I can do anything,'
I don't think they realize what they've done,” she said.
Article and photo by Elaine Wilson|
American Forces Press Service
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