Released: May 9, 2017
Kansas 4-H joins with Air Force to aid transition for deployed soldiers, families
Rock Springs hosts weekend campout to help military families re-connect
JUNCTION CITY, Kan. – More than 100 Air Force active duty, guard and reserve family members got some much-needed together time during a recent weekend campout at the Rock Springs 4-H Center.
For Michael Olmstead, who returned just three weeks earlier from a deployment to Qatar, it was the perfect way to reconnect with six-year-old son Ghevin and wife, Ieaka.
“You feel that sense of missing out when you’re gone,” said Michael, who has served 22 years in the Air Force.
The weekend outing was made possible by a partnership between Kansas 4-H,
McConnell Air Force Base and the Kansas Air Guard Family Readiness Center. This is the first year for the family campout, and organizers said 41 families participated.
“The purpose was to bring our military families closer together, specifically during the reintegration process for those families who have just come back from deployment,” said Heather Jaynes, a training and curriculum specialist for youth programs at McConnell. “It’s a chance to just take a break, unplug from everything and make new friends.”
Melodie Skillman is the coordinator for the school-age program at McConnell, which provides support for military kids ages 5 to 12.
“I think when a military member goes off, the family has to be resilient; they have to come together and survive while this person is gone out of their lives,” Skillman said. “The family learns new ways to cope. So out of that 6- or 12-month period, moms learn to schedule oil changes and kids learn to do things on their own.
“When (the deployed soldier) comes back, the family welcomes them but they have to realize that the family had to go on while they were gone. The soldier has to learn how the family has been functioning and what they did to remain successful.”
Kansas 4-H has worked with McConnell Air Force Base on various programs since 2002, and jumped at the chance to host the family campout at Rock Springs. It allowed numerous opportunities for outdoor activities, including canoeing, archery, hiking, environmental education, a ropes course, fishing, and more.
The campout was mostly funded through the Air Force/4-H Partnership Youth Camp Grant, a $20,000 award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in partnership with Air Force Child and Youth Programs and managed through K-State Research and Extension’s 4-H Military Partnership. The grant covered participants’ expenses for lodging, food, activities and some supplies.
“This camp was designed to provide families opportunities to practice communication, teamwork and healthy living skills in a fun and low-stress environment,” said Beth Drescher, a 4-H Youth Development agent in Sedgwick County who wrote the grant.
“In the last few years there have been many more military families under stress due to repeated deployments and re-integration. This takes a toll on everyone in the family, especially the children. My military partners and I saw the need to help parents reconnect with their children and learn new ways to interact positively with each other, so we pursued this grant opportunity. We felt it was very important to help the children develop some resiliency skills, and this was one of the methods supported by positive youth development research studies.”
Families stayed overnight in cabins and ate meals together in the camp’s dining hall.
“It was really nice,” said Ieaka Olmstead, a 20-year veteran of the Air Force. “We love camping anyway, and this was Air Force affiliated, with no cell phone service so we’re not distracted. It was our first camping trip of the season and was important for me to just get a little family time.”
As the family sat having lunch on the second day of the event, Ghevin recalled how he felt the six months that his dad was deployed. “It’s like me being by myself,” he said.
It brought tears to his mother’s eyes.
“As an active duty parent, as a mom, it breaks my heart to hear my son say he felt alone,” Ieaka said. “It breaks my heart, because that is the biggest thing for me when (Michael) was deployed is just to make sure that I could fill that gap of going to work every day, sometimes 12 hours a day, and who was going to watch my child if something happens to me.”
Ieaka teaches a class at McConnell on how to live a resilient lifestyle. She admits she had to live some of her own lessons during Michael’s recent deployment.
“It wouldn’t be fair to the people I teach to say, ‘hey this is how to be resilient. This is what you do when you’re pushed up against a rock and you feel like giving up,’” she said. “But even so, it’s good for them to see that, yeah, I’m a human, I cry when my child says he feels alone. We have those times when we are driving or doing things and my child would get quiet and look out the window; he’s thinking about his dad.”
Ieaka pulled out her phone to show a video of her dressed in a dinosaur costume as she and Ghevin welcomed Michael back home in early April. Ghevin rushed to his dad’s arms. The family’s reunion had begun.
“With every deployment, with certain families, it’s a way to reinvigorate that family unit,” Michael said. “So if you’re having issues before you leave, take your breaks, do your things when you’re gone, and then when you come back, rebuild everything from the ground up because you’re learning each other again. (Ieaka and Ghevin) have a different bond than when I left, so now they’re closer and I’m just trying to get back into that unit.
“You’ve got to force the transition. If you just let it be, you’re going to fall back into your old ruts.”
That might just be why a weekend at the Rock Springs 4-H Center is an idea that will build in years to come, Jaynes said.
“It’s important for couples when they return from a deployment to have that time to say hey here’s how things are, here’s how they have been working, and our processes have changed a little bit,” she said. “You’ve had to be a single mom or single dad for ‘X’ amount of months. The kids grow and change, and re-adapting to a two-parent household is challenging.”
After lunch on the second day of the campout, Ghevin Olmstead sat with his parents and the family worked on answering questions to a quiz game led by Drescher. Ieaka smiled contentedly.
“The Air Force core values are integrity first, service before self and excellence in all you do,” she said. “If you think about the 4-H program, what are they trying to teach children: Think with your head, use your hands, lead with your heart….
“As an Air Force member, those are all things that we teach each other. We teach our subordinates, we teach our peers how to think about situations and how to apply that thinking. We are going to go back and talk to our leaders and we are going to tell them that this is a program that we absolutely need to do multiple times.”
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Military family works through post-traumatic stress disorder
JUNCTION CITY, Kan. – Clint Jaynes sat quietly a few steps away from his wife, Heather, as she nervously recalled how her husband came back a different person from his overseas deployment in 2009.
An airman stationed at McConnell Air Force Base, Clint’s work had exposed him to unspeakable images of war and suffering in faraway lands. The trauma of those scenes followed him back home.
“It is life changing,” Heather Jaynes said. “They come home a different person. Little noises scare them. It’s almost like walking on egg shells. You’re not really sure…sometimes it’s fear of the unknown. Your whole life changes, and you learn to adapt to that as well as their homecoming. The person can’t sit with their back to the door because of fear…”
Clint, now retired from the Air Force, still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He is mostly recovered from his experience and is able to sit comfortably and talk playfully as Heather describes how she and the couple’s two children made it through the tough times.
“It took a long time to be able to be open and talk about it,” Heather said. “We had to make sure as a family that my husband was okay being open to talk about it. When he became open and became okay expressing his struggles, then it was okay for us to express and talk openly about it with other people. This is what our family has been through.
“I remember conversations when I would tuck my kids into bed and they would ask, ‘is daddy okay.’ I would tell them, ‘Yeah, things happen, daddy saw some things, he’s okay. Just hug him and tell him that you love him.’ That’s what he needed, and that’s what they needed.”
“It’s an adjustment.”
Heather is a training and curriculum specialist for youth programs at McConnell Air Force Base, where she says she can recognize similar experiences in kids she teaches and can help them understand what’s going on.
Clint said he still gets teary-eyed when he thinks about the struggle. Asked what was the biggest key in working through PTSD, he responded simply: “Good wife.”
The couple recently took part in a family campout hosted by Kansas 4-H, McConnell Air Force Base and the Kansas Air Guard Family Readiness Center at the Rock Springs 4-H Center. The weekend was a chance for military families to relax and re-connect.
K‑State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well‑being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K‑State campus in Manhattan.
For more information:
Beth Drescher – 316-660-0100, email@example.com