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Purple flags honor military children in an uncertain time

By Rachel Kersey | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | April 17, 2020

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas —

A team of 10 youth and three adults went out from the Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Youth Center April 16 planting purple flags around the base in honor of military children everywhere.

April is the nationally recognized Month of the Military Child and this flag-planting, which is occurring at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston as well as JBSA-Randolph, is part of a larger initiative called Purple Up!, which is celebrated April 17.

Purple Up USA, a San Antonio organization, approached Brig. Gen. Laura Lenderman, 502nd Air Base Wing and JBSA commander, with the idea to donate 1,000 flags per installation in celebration. Kimberly Gilman, assistant Child and Youth Services flight chief, learned April 13 of the initiative, called her team together and pulled the whole thing off in three days.

On JBSA-Lackland, the flags were placed in housing areas, outside of the Child Development Center and Family Childcare Center, in front of Youth Programs, in the area around the Commissary and by one of the gates.

“It worked! We all came together as a community,” Gilman said. “We’re here to celebrate the sacrifices and everything these military kids go through.”

With the spread of COVID-19 and implementing safety precautions a priority for JBSA and the whole world, many military children’s lives have been upended again. 

“I personally think that it's important to recognize them still because there are other things that can potentially overshadow them,” said Shalanda Wideman, JBSA-Lackland Youth Director. “So aside from what is happening right now, we wanted to focus in on [telling military children that] we still recognize you guys and we still thank you for being so empowered to continue to go no matter where you are in the world, to continue to grow, and to adapt to whatever environment you're faced with.”

Donning blue latex gloves and a black face mask, Michala Janaros, the 16-year-old military child and daughter of Col. Jason Janaros, 37th Training Wing commander, planted flags outside the homes on Chapman Training Annex. She and her sister, Abrielle, explained how making friends in San Antonio after moving from Illinois has been a challenge.

“Me and Abby had a really hard time connecting with the girls at our church,” Michala said, referring to Abrielle. “Some of them have lived here their whole life. They’re best friends. So we felt like the new kids. My brother connected really well, but I just kinda had a hard time.”

Abrielle said that they had gone to a church in Illinois where they were one of many military families and they fit in well there, but things were different here. And although he made friends in San Antonio easily, their brother, Jadon, would say that socializing is both the best part and the worst part of being a military kid.

“I think the hardest, and the most fun thing is meeting new people because you make those connections along the way, and then, unfortunately, you have to leave those connections,” he said. “But just making new friends and starting new adventures, I've always loved that about the military.”

Texas weather has been a challenge for him, too.

“Certain times of year here I do like, but during the summer, it gets way too hot,” he said. “And then I do miss the snow, too.”

The family spent some time in Colorado as well as New York, where they got plenty of snow. 

“I’m definitely a cold weather person,” Alaina agreed. “So the weather wasn’t my favorite here. But I like the people. And the food’s good.”

The Janaros children were quick to elucidate the upsides to their moving around. Michala and Abrielle relayed the joys of traveling the country in a recreational vehicle. They had their RV for many years until recently, when they sold it. The RV allowed them to reconnect with friends around America and camp in National Parks like Yellowstone.

“Military kids are very resilient,” Gilman said. “This is their month and we want to celebrate. Unfortunately, we had to cancel some things. But we still wanted to recognize them and do something special.”

“With everything going on, the majority of the kids are spending 90 percent of the time in a house,” Wideman said. “So with them being at home, we just really want to go around and touch a little bit of their area and let them know hey, we haven't forgotten you. We put this little marker to show that you are in our hearts.”