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JBSA News
NEWS | Sept. 8, 2011

Teens help teens deal with deployments

By Robert Goetz 502nd Air Base Wing OL-B Public Affairs

A peer support group is being formed at Randolph to help military children better cope with the deployments and remote tours of their parents that take a heavy emotional toll on families.

Partnered by the Airman and Family Readiness Center and Randolph Youth Programs, the support group's intent is to provide young people with a forum to address their concerns, share ideas and develop relationships as they cope with the absence of a parent due to deployment or remote assignment, Master Sgt. Karla Iglesias, 902nd Force Support Squadron Readiness NCO in charge, said. Their first meeting is planned for 3 p.m. Sept. 17 at the Randolph Youth Center.

Iglesias said the idea for the support group came from conversations with parents at the A&FRC's monthly Waiting Families Dinner, which is for Randolph military families experiencing a separation because of a deployment or remote tour.

"I usually engage with parents during these dinners," she said. "We have activities for smaller children at these dinners, but we don't engage teens very much and they have concerns that need to be heard."

Iglesias found a willing partner at the July dinner when 16-year-old Randolph High School junior Aliyah Encarnacion volunteered to serve as teen lead for the new program. She was attending the Waiting Families Dinner with her mother, Sheron, and her younger sister, Alyssa.

"I started talking with this family about our programs," Iglesias said. "I told them we don't have deployment support for teens at this time. Aliyah lit up and was ready to take on the challenge of starting a support group. She said she was very interested in leading the program."

Iglesias said Aliyah is already building interest in the program.

"She's been talking to kids at her high school, getting a lot of kids engaged," she said. "Now she's ready to circulate advertisements around school."

Aliyah, whose father, Julio, is an Army first sergeant, said she believes the youth center will be an ideal setting for the support group.

"The youth center is a place where teens go after school," she said. "It's a place where you can play games, relax and calm down. If teens are in an environment where they can relax, they're more prone to talk about things."

Aliyah learned the value of a fun, relaxing environment - a place where teens can talk freely to each other about their experiences and concerns - at the National Military Family Association's Operation Purple Camp at YMCA Camp Flaming Arrow in Kerrville, Texas, part of a network of camps that empower military children to develop and maintain healthy relationships despite the challenges of the military lifestyle.

She said if all military children had a chance to express themselves in such a setting, they would have an opportunity for closure and may feel less anxiety about deployment.

"I had such a great experience," said Aliyah, who attended the camp just weeks before volunteering for the Randolph program. "Hearing everybody else's story and finding those connections really brought us together. Nobody wanted to go home. This support group could be another one of those experiences."

Aliyah said she can provide a voice of experience at the support group meetings, which should help those who are new to the challenges of carrying on with their lives when one of their parents is gone, often to a hostile environment, or during the reintegration phase.

"I've gone through deployment multiple times," she said. "I'm much more adjusted now, but I can let others know how I felt and what they should expect."

Aliyah said the deployment of a parent can be particularly difficult for a teenager.

"The older you get, the more you know what's going on," she said. "You realize there's a war going on, and that's unsettling. Some kids are nervous wrecks. I think they need to talk about it; this makes them feel less alone. If they don't, it builds up inside and gets worse."

Although the support group was originally envisioned as a forum for teenagers, a section for pre-teens ages 9-12 is also planned, Iglesias said.

Aliyah said pre-teens like her sister Alyssa are deeply affected because their deployed parents are missing from important milestones in their lives.

Iglesias said conversing with their peers will allow support group participants "to talk freely about stresses they are going through."

"They don't necessarily want to talk to an adult," she said. "They're more comfortable talking to their peers."

Iglesias also said the support group could evolve into a setting where participants express themselves through music, video, art and other avenues.

For more information, call Iglesias at 652-5321.