Charles Hutteman turned to a pre-K classmate at Fort Gordon’s Freedom Park School on Monday as he grabbed the string to a purple balloon.
“Mine’s going to Mercury,” he said.
At the count of three, close to 480 Freedom Park students released 200 balloons in honor of the 2 million children the U.S. Army estimates have endured the deployment of one or both of their parents in the past three years.
Since 1986, Army installations around the world have celebrated April as the month of the Military Child to recognize the important role the sons and daughters of America’s military play in the strength of the nation.
Fort Gordon Garrison Commander Col. Robert Barker led Monday’s ceremony at Freedom Park, sincerely thanking the children for the bravery, enthusiasm and pride they show while their parents defend the U.S.
“It is because of your support that (your parents) can complete their missions with the utmost honor and professionalism,” Barker said.
His remarks fit with the theme of this year’s celebration – “Proud, Ready and Resilient” – a message planners think highlights the unique lifestyle of military children, with frequent relocations, reintegration and the loss or care of a wounded parent.
Installations across the Army will sponsor various events, such as teen lock-ins, youth bike rodeos, children’s book fairs and parades.
On Saturday, Fort Gordon will hold a free carnival from 9:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Barton Field that will feature rides, games, and lunch for children 18 and younger.
Throughout the week, each grade at Freedom Park – pre-K through eighth – has decorated the halls of the school with posters about why they “love to be a military child.”
Arista Elderkin, a fourth-grader, wrote that she loves to “see new places and meet new friends.” Leonard Elliott, a fifth-grader, noted that he enjoys learning about new cultures and different family traditions.
Freedom Park Principal Pauline Andrews said Fort Gordon recognizes and appreciates the sacrifices its children make daily and is committed to maintaining excellence in schools, youth services and child care to support children and their families.
Andrews said the Army post is delivering on these promises through efforts including Deployment Buddies, a program in which officers meet with students monthly to write to parents and give an outlet for them to talk about separation.
“We want to let every student know how special they are,” said Andrews, a military child herself, raised at Fort Gordon by a retired master sergeant. “I am proud of the sacrifices my students and their parents make for our country.”
Barker said the official flower of the military child is the dandelion, because experts say, like the dandelion, military children can take root almost anywhere and survive in almost any climate. Freedom Park elementary students said the well-rounded and culturally aware attitude comes from the support of each other.
“Our balloons will reach students in different countries and connect us,” said Naomie Heard, a Freedom Park fourth-grader who came to the school from Germany.
Josiah Thompson, in fifth grade, had a similar take. As he let go of his balloons and saw all the others, he said he realized all his classmates’ moms and dads sacrificed for their freedom.
“We are all in this together,” he said.