By Alan Morales, WTC Stratcom
Last night, 37 AW2 children marched across the main stage of the 2011 Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Symposium. Some smiled at their parents in the audience, while most stomped their feet, looked straight forward, and yelled chants just like their parents did, or still do, as Soldiers in the Army.
These children participated in Operation Purple® at the YMCA of Central Florida’s Camp Wewa. Sponsored by the National Military Family Association, the camp coordinated outdoor and indoor activities for the children throughout the week. More importantly—Operation Purple® changed lives.
I watched photos light up as they slid across a projection screen. These photos were of AW2 kids not just having fun, but learning how to work together. A photo of a young girl, balancing herself on an elevated tightrope, stood out in my mind. In front and behind of her, were two other children—children she just met five days ago—spotting her to make sure she didn’t fall.
That photo demonstrated the type of AW2 kids at Symposium this week. And the thousands of other kids across the country who support each other, and their wounded warrior parents.
At the end of the ceremony, I walked to a poster presentation where I read notes written by the AW2 Symposium children about their parents.
- “If he didn’t go to the Army, I wouldn’t be here.”
- “My mom and myself don’t spend enough time together as I would like, but this week has helped.”
- “He is better than anybody in the whole world.”
- “He pushes me in school and has to be the best blessing in my life.”
These words, written in fluorescent permanent marker, illustrated that military kids understand their parents’ challenges. They have the amazing ability to live dual lives. One where they are normal kids having fun growing up, and another where they take on roles above their pay grade to support their parents’ unique challenges.
Later that evening, I walked through the hotel atrium and saw many of the children from the ceremony huddled together, sitting on the lobby couches. They continued to share their stories, laugh, and smile. It was clear to me that these relationships were far from superficial, they were real.
I walked onto the elevator to head back to my room, and reflected on the last words of the photo slideshow that read on the projection screen that afternoon. “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
Note: At the 2011 AW2 Symposium, delegate children identified the top issues that face them as the children of wounded warriors. These issues will be presented to Army and Veterans Affairs leadership along with the issues and recommendations presented by their parents.