Everyone has a memory attached to 9/11/2001. We know where we were, what we were doing, what we felt that day. One little boy, let’s call him Jack, was starting his first year of school; he was in kindergarten. The principal came into his classroom to say there was an emergency, and he would be going home. He didn’t want to go home. He was busy with blocks and numbers. But his mom picked him up early, and he knew as soon as he got home that something bad had happened. His dad was stationed at the Pentagon, and his mom was in tears all day. The phone kept ringing, neighbors kept appearing, and their house was in disarray.
Two days later, Jack’s dad finally returned home, way past his bedtime, and he waited in the dark for his father to tuck him in. He was so happy to see his dad’s face, to know that he was okay. Fast forward several years.Now Jack’s a third grader in Tampa. His dad’s working at SOCOM, Special Operations Command, and this time when his dad comes into his room to say goodnight, he tells him that he has to go to someplace called Iraq, and he’ll be gone for a year.
Jack has knots in his belly; he thinks his dad’s job is awesome, but he also has a knowing about combat.
Jump ahead five years. Now Jack’s thirteen. His family’s just moved to Fort Hood, Texas, and he’s in a new neighborhood. He’s got to find a new group of friends, a new soccer team, someone to eat lunch with in a new school cafeteria, and he’s hoping he can find an empty seat on a new school bus that will drop him off in front of a row of houses that all look the same. This time his dad’s in Afghanistan, and his mom’s started a new job. Life is hectic but they’ll figure it out. They’ve done this before.
Four years later Jack’s got to think about going to college. He’s going to graduate from a new high school. His family’s stationed at Fort Stewart, Georgia now, and he’s not sure if he wants to go back to Texas to go to school or if he should stay close to his mom. Jack’s guidance counselor is trying to add up his credits from three different high schools so he can make sure he’ll graduate on time. He has to take his SAT’s to figure out what college will be a good match, and his love for soccer has narrowed the field. He wants to play college ball. His mind races with all of the factors that will weigh on his decision. His dad’s in Afghanistan again, and maybe it’s going to be too tough to be so far away from home. But if Jack’s learned one thing, it’s that home is where the military sends you.
Jack has hopes and dreams, like most kids. He’s got to come up with a plan to prepare for the career he chooses. He must find the college that allows him to do what he loves, both in the classroom and on the field. He’s got to think about his younger brother and sister, his mom, and how his plans will impact his family.
Most of Jack’s decisions have to be made on the fly. His dad’s been deployed often and his home address has changed eight times in twelve years.
Jack’s an icon, a symbol of a GI kid. He is one of over a million U.S. military kids who have had a parent deployed to a combat zone since 9/11. He also represents the two million kids who have a parent serving on active duty today.
Gratitude Initiative (GI) offers a hand up to kids like Jack. GI works with military and veteran families at no cost to them to provide parents and their children in eighth grade through college with tools and programs proven to put young people on a path to success. Would it make a difference if Jack had tutoring and homework help, access to a college preparatory academy, career guidance, scholarships, and a personal GI advisor? What if we added some more tension to Jack’s life—what if his father is wounded in combat? What if he suffered a traumatic brain injury, amputation, or spinal cord injury? What if his dad or mom suffered from PTSD? What if Jack’s grades aren’t up to par? What if there’s not enough money to finance Jack’s dreams and ambitions? Would GI make a difference? We believe it would.
Since 9/11/01, over 6,650 service members have been killed in action. Over 50,000 men and women in uniform have been wounded. More than 50,000 military children have had a parent killed, wounded, or injured. More than 13 years fighting two separate wars have taken an incredible toll on our military families. But our military families are incredibly brave.
In the months ahead, we’ll share real stories of boys like “Jack” and other military kids who are part of GI’s mission. By joining hands and hearts, we can all give kids like Jack a chance to make their hopes and dreams a reality. Please give to GI today.
About the author:
Robin Overby Cox is part of a military family comprised of her husband, MAJ (USA, Ret, Dec) Carlisle B. Cox III, her father, COL (USA, Ret, Dec) Lauren Overby, her brothers, LTC (USA, Ret) Stacy and Todd Overby, her father-in-law COL (USA, Ret, Dec) Carlisle B. Cox Jr., her son-in-law, MAJ (USA) Jeffrey Ryan Petty and numerous extended family members. A librarian and writer, she authored Steel Will, Baker Publishing Group, 2014,with wounded warrior, SSG (USA, Ret) Shilo Harris. She’s lived on Army posts from Okinawa, Japan to Hohenfels, Germany, to everyplace in between and now calls College Station, TX her home. She’s committed to Gratitude Initiative because she knows first-hand about the support the children of our military and veteran families need and deserve.