Military Children Stress During Parent Deployment

San Diego family tells how a father’s absence affected one son


As military service members make the ultimate sacrifice overseas, another kind of sacrifice here at home often gets overlooked: that of military families.

The families of those serving in the military undergo a great deal of stress over the course of multiple deployments. 

A new study out of Washington State suggests children of deployed parents are more than twice as likely to carry a weapon, join a gang or be involved in fights.  The study surveyed about ten thousand adolescents, and roughly five percent had a parent deployed within the past six years. 

One San Diego-based family understands some of those issues.
"When I went to get his cell phone, he proceeded to raise his hand to me. He was going to hit me” said Denise Gardner, recounting an experience with her son Trey.

She said she had always been close to Trey, but when her husband Robert was on deployment for the Navy, and Trey was not the same. 

“I was always super-duper angry and always super-duper sad," said Trey.

He said his father's absence was like having a big hole in his family. He missed what he felt was a normal family setting.

 "Most kids are used to eating dinner - everyone sitting at the table saying grace", said Trey.
Trey’s feelings are not uncommon.  While more research is needed, the new study suggests that violence is more common among the children of deployed parents than the children of civilians. 

Trey's psychiatrist, Navy Cmrd. H. Scott Kane, said deployments do add stress, but the vast majority of kids he sees are not dealing with aggression or violence.  More typical reactions are anxiety, trouble with sleep or defiant behavior.

 "Bottom line: if the parent feels the child is really different and they're worried about them they should seek help,” said Kane.
Denise got that help, and it made all the difference.  Now Trey opens up to both his parents, and he has been able to resolve some of that fear.

"I have lots of heroes in my life but my dad's always going to be there for me, so he's always going to be that main one,” said Trey.
Denise hopes other families of service members will hear her story and reach out for help.

 "I have my son back, but he's grown up, and I have to get to know him again," she said.
Denise told NBC7 that while getting help for Trey, she learned there are many resources available for military families, which includes going to their command for help.  One resource is the Navy's Fleet and Family Support Center in San Diego.  It offers free counseling services to military members and their families.  The number to call in San Diego County is 866-923-6478.

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