Military Daughters Draw On Each Other For Support

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Moranda Hern (right) and Kaylei Deakin deliver the keynote address at the conference. i i

Kaylei Deakin (left) and Moranda Hern deliver the keynote address at the Sisterhood of the Traveling BDUs' inaugural conference in Fresno, Calif., last weekend. Sasha Khokha/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Sasha Khokha/NPR
Moranda Hern (right) and Kaylei Deakin deliver the keynote address at the conference.

Kaylei Deakin (left) and Moranda Hern deliver the keynote address at the Sisterhood of the Traveling BDUs' inaugural conference in Fresno, Calif., last weekend.

Sasha Khokha/NPR

Kaylei Deakin and Moranda Hern met two years ago at a leadership symposium for children of National Guard members. Kaylei had a blue mohawk, while Moranda was more conservative, sporting charm bracelets. But, says Moranda, they realized they had a lot in common.

"Being teenage girls, it's a really big transition time anyways, and when a parent is deployed or you move around a lot, it just intensifies those little self-esteem issues," Moranda said. "But at the same time, it's difficult when such a big presence in your household is gone."

The teens say their connection made them realize girls with family members in the military needed a forum of their own. So they created a PowerPoint presentation to persuade the California National Guard and corporate sponsors to donate money for a weekend conference where girls could share their experiences. The girls raised $30,000 to bring more than 100 teens to the conference, all expenses paid.

They call themselves the Sisterhood of the Traveling BDUs (battle dress uniforms) and say they hope last weekend's conference in Fresno, Calif., is the just the first of many across the country.

VIPs

The event began with a masquerade ball, and the girls parading down a purple carpet in fancy dresses.

"We want the girls walking the purple carpet right now to know that it may be hard, but you're special because your parent is in the military," said Moranda.

The teens were exhausted after long bus rides from all over California and a 5:30 a.m. military-style wake-up call. But they seemed to perk up — even stopped texting and giggling — for workshops on self-esteem and presentations by an Olympic soccer player and a Hollywood executive.

They also heard from the first African-American woman to head the California National Guard, Brig. Gen. Mary Kight, who told the girls they are worthy of the future.

Eighteen-year-old Tiffanie Fisher, whose father first deployed when she was 13, welcomed the message.

"I said I was prepared for it, but the day he left I cried the whole day," she said. "He wasn't even gone yet and I was already crying, 'cause I used to be really, really close to him."

Tiffanie said the most nerve-wracking moment came when her family heard her father, who was serving in Iraq, had been shot.

"We didn't know if he got killed. We didn't know anything. We just knew he got shot and so during that three weeks it was hard," she said. "My mom cried every night. We all cried. I can't see my mom cry, so it made me cry."

Her father survived and is home, she said, though he has a bullet still lodged in his leg.

Future Fighters

Many of the girls at the conference shared their fears about having their parents in combat.

Alexandria Gonzalez, 16, calls herself a "Daddy's girl."

"I would never want nothing to happen to him because if he died, I think I would die, too," she said, adding that it was comforting to meet other girls in her shoes.

"I'm going to have a different state of mind of like — there [are] other kids out there going through the same thing as me and my brother and sister are. I didn't really think there was anybody else, but there is," she said.

Alexandria said she plans to join the Army, too, just as her father is retiring.

"I know it's going to be hard for him. He'll get to go through what I went through," she said.

She's not the only one who said she's going to join the military: Many of the girls said they plan to join, including the two conference organizers, Kaylei and Moranda.

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