June 9th, 2006 05:58 EST
Youth Service Medal recognizes children's sacrifices by Army Sgt. June A. Norton
MILFORD, Mass. (AFPN) -- When servicemembers deploy, they aren't the only ones who serve. Their families serve also, and usually the separation is hardest on the children. Homecomings are joyous moments for military families, but until recently, the service and sacrifice made by the children of deployed troops went largely unrecognized.
That has all changed here, thanks to the Massachusetts State Family Program Office and their new Youth Service Medal.
“At each reunion briefing, we are all amazed at how strong these children are and the degree of resiliency they demonstrate” said Jennifer Cesaitis, youth program coordinator for the Massachusetts National Guard.
“The children are truly deserving of an award for their service, sacrifice and support to their families, the unit, the community and each other," she said. "The Youth Service Medal is only one small way that the National Guard can recognize them.”
The concept for recognizing children of deployed servicemembers began with the chaplains and was adapted from a ceremony at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass. Each child was awarded a flag shaped medal and given a salute. However, it was soon discovered that the flag medals were no longer available for purchase, so Massachusetts Air National Guard Family Program pins were given to each child at the reunion briefings.
The popularity of this award continued to grow and it was decided to upgrade the award to a distinctive medal. Officials worked closely with an award company to create the medal which is for all children of Massachusetts National Guard members, including Air National Guard.
“Anyone who has followed children through the cycle of deployment knows that they really do serve. They have suddenly become a part of a military family where before they have not identified themselves in this way,” Ms. Cesaitis said. “One of our main goals in the Youth Program is to help our families and their children not only cope, but flourish as a result of their affiliation with the Massachusetts National Guard.”