| July 21, 2006

A Note from Admiral Gallo: Making Children a Priority

Overseas deployment can be very emotional for even the bravest service man or woman. But the families they leave behind, especially the children, also experience complex and often conflicting emotions; and too often their needs are forgotten or overshadowed by the conflict in which their parents are fighting.

But the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA), the nation’s leading nonprofit organization supporting the families of junior enlisted military personnel, makes these children its highest priority, offering high-quality child care, education, and recreation. This year’s ASYMCA Annual Art and Essay Contest gave the children of both active duty and retired military personnel an important creative outlet to express their pride in their military families.

Every year when I read the entries to the Annual Art and Essay Contests, I am amazed by the maturity and thoughtfulness these children display. For me, it validates everything we do at ASYMCA to improve the lives of junior enlisted personnel and their families. Even with the sacrifices these families endure on behalf of this nation, their children exhibit a singular gratitude for their country and their parents’ service. It is this selflessness that proves just why these families need our thanks and support. At ASYMCA, we are truly committed to giving back to these families who give up so much on our behalf.

With the nation still at war, entries poured in from students with deployed parents, and I have to say that they are among the most moving and heartfelt we have ever received.

This year’s essay winner in the fifth- and sixth-grade category, Kirsten Anderson, wrote a book titled “The Crash,” which features photographs and illustrations of her family and friends, and describes how she found out about her father’s death in a helicopter crash in Iraq.

“Two troops came to the door and asked for mom. I ran to get her,” Kirsten wrote. “They sat her down and said, ‘On January 7th your husband died in a helicopter crash.’ Mom started to cry and [my sister] Keely and I heard too and cried with her.”

Kirsten then describes how her mother, Tori Anderson, and her teachers and friends helped her cope with the tragedy. She even writes about how all of her classmates waved at her when the school bus passed her house, “All my friends cheered me up.”

Kirsten ends her book with a photograph of her father and the following message: “Thank you Dad for helping free us. I’ll miss you.”

Caitlin Augustin, winner of the 11th – and 12th -grade category wrote a moving letter to her parents, who are both Marines.

“I’m writing this letter in gratitude for your military service, something I have not expressed in the past,” she wrote. “As I mature, I have begun to realize how unique a United States military serviceperson truly is, an awesome combination of conviction, loyalty and courage.”

There were similarly moving entries in the art contest. Fifth-grader Sarah Magnin won second place in the Army category for a portrait of herself and her father, who is currently deployed in Iraq. Her artwork also features a letter to her father. Third-grader Madeline Lathroum’s winning piece in the Navy category illustrates her family waving goodbye to a Navy ship.

In fact, these students’ work was so inspiring that all of the winning pieces were recently featured in a display at the U.S. Senate’s historic Russell Rotunda over the Fourth of July. What better way to celebrate our nation’s independence than by showcasing the families of those who still fight for our freedom? This was an important opportunity for ASYMCA to show both legislators and the public the strength and sacrifices of America’s military families, and to introduce them to the people that ASYMCA donations support.

Every time I look at these essays and artwork, I am inspired to renew my commitment and redouble my efforts to improve the lives of America’s military families through quality ASYMCA programming and support services. I hope that you are similarly inspired and join me in carrying out the ASYMCA mission.