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Children Of Military Families Feel The Strain

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Children Of Military Families Feel The Strain

The Impact of War

Children Of Military Families Feel The Strain

Children Of Military Families Feel The Strain

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Children of military service members experience more emotional and behavioral challenges than kids whose parents are not soldiers, according to a recent study commissioned by the National Military Family Association. In commemoration of Memorial Day, guest host Allison Keyes talks to Mary Scott, whose group commissioned the study. Scott is a military spouse and mother of six. All of her children are active service members. She talks about the effect of military service on family life. Two of Scott's daughters also join the conversation — U.S. Army Captain Kate Gowel and U.S. Air Force Captain Karoline Scott.


I'm Allison Keyes, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

Coming up, celebrity chef and former reality TV star Carla Hall shares her favorite recipes, just in time for summer. But first, today across the nation, we honor the men and women who died serving their country. And as a nation, we also acknowledge those soldiers currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their long and repeated deployments have tested not only their endurance but also that of their families.

This is Mary Scott's reality. She's an Army spouse and mother of six children, all of whom are serving in the military. Mary Scott joins us now. She's chairman of the Board of Governors of the National Military Family Association. We're also joined by two of her daughters: U.S. Army Major Kate Gowel, and U.S. Air Force Captain Karoline Scott. Welcome to you all.

Ms. MARY SCOTT (Chairman, Board of Governors, National Military Family Association): Thank you, Allison for having us.

Captain KAROLINE SCOTT (U.S. Air Force): Thanks for having us.

Major KATE GOWEL (U.S. Army): Hi. Thank you for having us.

KEYES: Mary, your father was an Army officer who was killed in Vietnam. Your husband was an Army general, and all six of your kids in the military. Oh, my gosh.

Ms. SCOTT: That's right, Allison.

KEYES: How cool is that?

Ms. SCOTT: It's the family business.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SCOTT: That's what we do, you know, yeah. We're very proud of the service to the country. I'm really very proud of all six my children, that they have chosen to do this, to serve their country. And it keeps us all busy, and gives us all a lot in common.

KEYES: Kate, you just got back from a year-long tour in Iraq, and you have two young boys, right?

Maj. GOWEL: Yes, that's right. Shane(ph) will be 3 in a few days, and Matt(ph) is actually 6.

KEYES: That must've been beyond a challenge. How did you manage that?

Maj. GOWEL: Well, it was a challenge. My husband and I actually deployed back-to-back. So he was deployed for a year, and then I deployed for a year. Being deployed at first had its own challenges and, you know, I was separated from my entire family. But being back here and taking care of the kids was extremely challenging.

KEYES: Mary, the National Military Family Association did a survey that found that children of service members have a little more trouble with emotional and behavior issues than the kids whose parents are not in the service. Any thoughts on why?

Ms. SCOTT: A study was needed to see really, to try to quantify what was going on out there and we did, indeed, find that children of repeated deployments do seem to have more - greater anxiety levels when compared to the greater public. I dont think there was anything startling, but it did confirm what we had been hearing from families.

Girls in the pre-teen teenaged years seem to have more difficulty with the deployments, and also with the reintegration of the service member back into the family. Boys who are in the teen range seem to have a little more difficulty in school. Some trend toward riskier behavior. We did find that there's absolutely an association between the health, the mental health and the well-being of the caregiver - that is, the parent at home - and the well-being of the children.

KEYES: In other words, how well the caregiver is doing affects how the child is doing.

Ms. SCOTT: How the child is doing.

KEYES: Kate, let me ask you, you are a mom with young kids. That sounds like an awfully high price to pay for your service.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Maj. GOWEL: Well, fortunately, you know, I'm stationed at Fort Hood, which is a very large Army post in Texas. And we have extremely robust family and soldier programs. You know, the Army has really put the effort in to try to help families before deployment, during deployment, and then especially after deployment.

Furthermore, you know, I think that - I feel that with my own children, obviously I think my husband and I have to stay strong and focused and take care of ourselves, to keep our mental health up there. But you know, it's all about attitude as well, and how you take every day. Your positive attitude, I think, can really impact your children. So you know, my mother and my sister, my other sister, my brothers, my whole family's been out here helping with my kids when I was deployed, so there's that as well. You know, I am lucky to have a very supportive family.

KEYES: Karoline, I wonder - what was it like for you as a kid? I mean, I think that I read somewhere that you guys moved more than 20 times when you were growing up. How was it for you as a kid, and what kind of advice would you have for the children of other military families?

Capt. SCOTT: For me as a kid, the moving around a lot was definitely a benefit. I think I'm a stronger adult now because of it. Of course, it did come with some tough years. It's always hard to leave friends and start up at new schools. But honestly, its all in how your family presents it, and I'm so glad to have such a strong, strong family who have always been there to support us through our childhood and now into adulthood.

KEYES: Kate, let me ask you for the same kind of advice but from the parental side.

Maj. GOWEL: Well, I certainly would say that a positive attitude is the most important thing, and I think that takes you about 90 percent of the way. Just normal parenting tips: Pay attention to your children, be involved in their lives as much as you can. I try to remind myself a lot that sometimes it's quality times spent with your kids, not quantity. You know, so my husband and I try to stay involved as much as we can. If we can go to a school lunch with my kindergartener, we go. You know, it's just putting the effort every time that you can.

KEYES: If youre just joining us, I'm Allison Keyes, and youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're speaking with Mary Scott of the National Military Family Association and two of her daughters: Army Major Kate Gowel and Air Force Captain Karoline Scott.

I'm not a mom, but I'm curious about this because your kids are really young.

Maj. GOWEL: Yes.

KEYES: I mean, is it difficult to keep your face in their head? I mean, they recognize you when you get home. I mean, they're able to see you over the computer. How does that work out?

Maj. GOWEL: Sure. When my husband deployed, my youngest was just 5 months old. So when my husband came home, Sammy just didnt know who he was. But fortunately, when youre that little - 18 months old...

KEYES: Mm-hmm.

Maj. GOWEL: can adjust very quickly. And, you know, so Jay gave him a few pieces of candy and they were best friends.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Maj. GOWEL: So that's pretty easy. And when I deployed, Sammy was 19 months old. And then when I got home, he was 2 and a half. That was a little bit of a difficult time because he knew that I was someone he was supposed to know, but he wasnt quite sure who I was. I think that was probably harder on me than it was on him, having taken care of him myself for a year, for him not to be sure who I was. But again, you just have to stay positive, work through it every day, and spend as much quality time as I can with him every day.

With my 6-year-old, obviously, he remembered who I was. But still, I think there's a little bit more anxiety there as you get older and you know your parent is missing. You know, when are they coming back? When youre that age -4, 5, 6 - you dont understand time. So, you know, tomorrow could be next week, could be a year from now.

KEYES: And for you, I mean, wow, you and your husband were gone - I mean, that's almost like having to shift from being a soldier in Iraq to then going home to be a single parent, with all of that support system behind you.

Maj. GOWEL: Right. That was a challenge. I would say that's probably been the biggest challenge, different roles - going sort of from single parent to deployed lawyer, you know, going to Iraqi courthouses. A great thing that the Army has is the Strong Bonds Program, where they take married couples on retreats and really work on the marriage relationship because that is something that can -it can flounder a little bit with more than one deployment. I think more deployments you have, the marriage relationship - the parent at home just gets used to doing things on their own, and the parent deployed kind of isn't used to being part of a family unit. So they have the really great marriage programs, which I think is very helpful.

KEYES: Mary, what are some of the resources that are available to help families that might be feeling a little bit overwhelmed?

Ms. SCOTT: Well, I highly recommend using our website, frankly There's an enormous amount of information on our website. We also have links and contacts to many, many other organizations. Some of the programs that we offer are Operation Purple Summer Camps, where this year we'll be again sending 10,000 kids approximately to camp, free of charge - children whose parents are deployed or have been recently deployed. We also have, as part of our camp program, family retreats that we offer. If you are close to a military post or base, you check in, you can find things to do.

We do also support Reserve and Guard families. Reserve and Guard families are a little bit different than active because, of course, they may be out in completely non-military community, and then the service member is called to duty -and called to deploy for a year.

KEYES: Right.

Ms. SCOTT: Leaving a family behind who is completely unaccustomed to the military, really. Sometimes they dont even really know what, you know, about I.D. cards and benefits that are available and...

KEYES: It's got to be hard for new families that are just starting that.

Ms. SCOTT: It can be very, very difficult. And one of the things, again, we're hoping - and being on your program, to raise awareness, really, in the greater American public that there are military families out there in your community, even if you dont know it. And to try to understand, show some support, just simple support that all families need when they're separated. You know, offer some respite care for children, or bring a meal over, or just become a good friend and a neighbor. And lots of times, these Guard and Reserve families, particularly, are just not in the military community and really dont know what to do themselves.

So we want to help the greater American public know that these families are your families. These are America's families, and we'd like everyone to reach out and try to understand and give a helping hand to military families who are strong - strong families, strong force, strong nation. That's kind of how we look at it.

KEYES: Karoline, question for you.

Capt. SCOTT: Yes.

KEYES: Your whole family has been in the military. Was there ever a time you thought, hmm, I'm going to step outside of this wonderful thing that's happening in my family.

Capt. SCOTT: Oh sure, absolutely. And I'm kind of like my older sister. Honestly, of all the children in my family, I'm probably the one who no one expected to go into the military. But when it came down to it...

KEYES: Your mom's nodding.

Capt. SCOTT: Well, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SCOTT: I tell people, Karoline is in the Air Force because she really looks good in blue.

KEYES: Nice.

Ms. SCOTT: She has - no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Capt. SCOTT: Thanks, Mom.

Ms. SCOTT: That's just a little joke.

Capt. SCOTT: But when it came down to it, though, and I was getting ready to go to college and I had seen - grown up in the military, and Kate and my older brother Andy having gone through it, it was really a no-brainer. And I actually absolutely loved doing ROTC in college, and I have loved my years of service. So yeah, there was definitely a time when I didnt think about joining but now, I can't imagine having not joined.

KEYES: Are the challenges and joys of military service supremely different for a woman? And Karoline, I'd like to start with you there.

Capt. SCOTT: Well, I think the great thing about the military now is it knows no gender. I have the same opportunities as my brothers and my father had, and the men that I work with. My mother's mother actually has said to me a couple of times, make sure I appreciate what I'm able to do, because the opportunities were not there when she was my age. And I actually - I think about that a lot, how fortunate I am to have every single opportunity my brothers and my father had now. And for me, personally, I've had every ounce of respect that any of my male counterparts have had. And there are always unique challenges but for the most part, it's been very equal. And as a woman, I'm treated just as well, and it's the same service.

KEYES: What about starting a family, Karoline? And this may be my ignorance -

Capt. SCOTT: Mm-hmm.

KEYES: But what happens when you get pregnant if youre in the military, and you have to go through that whole kind of thing?

Capt. SCOTT: Sure. You know, its tough. I have a lot of friends who are serving who have kids and are married and, of course, my sister going through that now. But I have a fantastic example in my sister, seeing what she's gone through. It's definitely a challenge. It definitely will change things for me if I have a family while I'm in the military. But I know that there are so many resources out there in my family and in the military community, that I know that I can do it. It's not a make-or-break for me. I know that I absolutely can have a family and serve my country, and there will be plenty of support to allow me to do that.

KEYES: We're going to pause here and when we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Mary Scott. She's chairman of the Board of Governors of the National Military Family Association. We're also joined by two of her children: U.S. Army Major Kate Gowel, and U.S. Air Force Captain Karoline Scott. We're talking about the effect of military life on children and families.

That's coming up on TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Allison Keyes.

(Soundbite of music)

KEYES: This is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Allison Keyes. Michel Martin is away.

We're back with Mary Scott. She's the chairman of the board of governors of the National Military Family Association. We're also joined by two of her daughters: U.S. Army Major Kate Gowel, and U.S. Air Force Captain Karoline Scott. On this Memorial Day, we're talking about the effect of the military on children and families.

Mary, you've got this legacy in your family of military service, more than 130 years. What kind of advice do you have for other families?

Ms. SCOTT: I think even now, in the state of deployment and of course, things are shifting every year - we hope to be coming out of Iraq, you know, more, so perhaps the deployments will not be as frequent, as often. But the families will still be moving. Soldiers still train. Even when they're home, they're gone a lot.

But it can be a very positive lifestyle, knowing that you are serving the country. Military families tend to be very patriotic, including the children, very proud of the service, knowing that they truly make a difference to the country. So you know, I can just say, you'd be very proud if you have a child who approaches you and say, hey, mom, dad, I think I want to go into the military. Do a little investigating, be positive.

As the girls said, attitude is everything. Realize that we have a professional and wonderfully trained military. Chances that they will stay safe are great. Prepare yourself for the challenges and for what could possibly happen, but stay a positive force in those military families' lives. There are so many ways you can reach out to families through your community involvement, through your church involvement. I do recommend to families, be proactive. Don't worry about worrying. Don't stay home and worry.

KEYES: Because I actually was kind of curious about that. How do you sit at home, and you're looking at the cable channels and they're saying, OK, more people were injured today. How do you get through that?

Ms. SCOTT: You can get too much news these days. And I remember when our oldest son, Andy, was deployed the first time. It was violent and it was the beginning of the war, and we saw a lot of stuff. I felt like I couldn't get enough news. But then, you realized you really can be saturated oversaturated. Just pull away from it.

But I recommend being very proactive. Establish some support group out there in your community. If you're wondering how to do it, get in touch with us. Seek out other military families. If you have a post or a base in your community, go there. Find out what you can do. It is very therapeutic. It is very helpful for families who are coping with this to be proactive, to do something for the service member, to do something for the families. It really helps to pass the time. It makes you feel involved, gives you something positive to do. So that's what I would recommend doing.

KEYES: Actually, Kate, I'm going to ask the last question to you. When your kids grow up, do you want them to follow in your footsteps?

Maj. GOWEL: I would say if that's what they want to do, yes, we would be very proud of them if they wanted to be in the Army.

KEYES: But not the Air Force?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Capt. SCOTT: I'd be proud of them if they joined the Air Force.

Maj. GOWEL: Well, you know, we might have a small it would maybe be a discussion.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Maj. GOWEL: But I think we could be I'm kidding. Of course, we'd be proud of them either way.

KEYES: And I won't even mention the M-word.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Maj. GOWEL: Yeah, I think it would be great, actually.

KEYES: Thank you, ladies, very much for sharing so much with us. Mary Scott is chairman of the board of governors of the National Military Family Association. She was right here in our Washington studio. We were also joined by two of her children. Army Major Kate Gowel joined us on the phone from Fort Hood, Texas. And Air Force Captain Karoline Scott joined us from member station KSTX in San Antonio.

Thank you, ladies, and thanks for your service.

Ms. SCOTT: Thank you, Allison, it was fun.

Maj. GOWEL: Thank you very much.

Capt. SCOTT: Thank you.

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