Military.com | Oct. 21, 2006

A Note from Admiral Gallo: Operation Hero

With school back in session after summer vacation, the adjustment may be more difficult for the children of America’s service men and women. Deployments and frequent family moves can make it challenging for children to focus on their classes and make friends. Often, those students who struggle typically enjoy school, but outside circumstances create a temporary hurdle that they need help overcoming.

And that’s where Operation Hero comes in.

When an elementary-age child (age 6-12) from a military family begins to show a decline in school performance, teachers, parents, or school officials can refer him or her to the Operation Hero program at their local Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA). Operation Hero then intervenes and helps children get back on track in school, both academically and socially. The semester-long program provides after-school tutoring and mentoring assistance, in addition to facilitating a positive environment and encouraging responsible behavior.

The Operation Hero program lasts 10 weeks, during which time students meet with their instructors twice a week for two-hour sessions. With an eight-to-one student-instructor ratio, participants are sure to get the individual attention they need. Additionally, all of the instructors are experienced, which helps ensure that the students’ needs are identified and met.

The program curriculum was designed to help children excel in all aspects of their lives and includes: homework completion and tutoring; role-playing exercises on topics such as respect, anger control, conflict resolution, and strengths discovery; activities designed to improve specific academic and developmental skills such as cooperation, listening, and following directions; and outdoor exercise and motor skills games.

But Operation Hero is not just about learning — it’s also about camaraderie. Operation Hero helps children see that they are not alone, that there are others who struggle with issues unique to military life.

Operation Hero is one of ASYMCA’s keystone national programs, and it continues to grow every year. The program started with just one location at Camp Pendleton in 1995, but has since served more than 5,000 students at 19 ASYMCA locations across the country, including: Camp Pendleton, Fort Bragg/Pope AFB, Alameda, Fort Belvoir, Twentynine Palms, San Diego, Wheeler/Schofield, Travis AFB, Fort Carson, Fort Campbell, Iroquois Point, Camp Lejeune, Kaneohe Bay, Fort Drum, Eielson AFB, Hampton Roads, Okinawa, Fort Richardson, and Fort Riley. This year, more than 1,300 students will participate in Operation Heron.

At ASYMCA, we constantly hear about what a big difference Operation Hero makes for America’s military families. Here is just one of the many success stories:

“This letter holds my deepest thanks for the magic the Operation Hero program has worked in the lives of my children as well as my husband and myself. This duty station has brought my daughter, Brandy, to her seventh home and sixth school. Brandy is 10 years old. She is a strong girl, with a heart full of ‘Marine kid pride.’

“However, her means of making friends, her self worth and her behavior here were more than lacking! Her grades were poor, at best, and she was even suspended from school for striking another student. She had lost herself, and those special things that made her Brandy! With this to face, I too lost myself.

“In the fall of 2002 Brandy was one of the first to get an ‘Operation Hero boost.’ She learned the true hero in our family was her. Brandy had been renewed! She now respects everyone, and sees that the people around her do too. She helps with housework and is a mentor to her younger sister and brother.

“At school Brandy was awarded for her behavior and academic achievement. She was on the honor roll the three quarters after Operation Hero. The skills Brandy learned in her 10 weeks of the Operation Hero program will continue to offer support to our family as well as those around us. We have a new look on our future. Brandy now makes a positive contribution to our community by volunteering her time to ease the lives of some of the families around us who are wading through deployment to Iraq. It is a blessing to watch my 10-year-old daughter inspire strength in adults simply by sharing her pride-filled heart with them.”

I hope that you’ll join ASYMCA and Operation Hero sponsors such as General Dynamics, Sodexho USA, and the Marine Corps in helping the children of our brave service men and women succeed in school and in their lives. For more information about Operation Hero and other ASYMCA programs, please visit www.www.asymca.org .