American Forces Press Service
July 25, 2008 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today called it a "sacred responsibility" to care for the generation of American military children affected by the deployment, and in some cases the death, of a servicemember parent. "The empty seat at the dinner table night after night is a constant reminder of a child's worry for his or her parent's safety," Gates said, according to his prepared remarks. "And there is also the grief and the heartbreak when a loved one is injured or killed -- a grim reality of war."
Roughly 43 percent of U.S. active-duty, reserve and National Guard members engaged in the war on terrorism are parents, Gates told members of the military Child Education Coalition in Grapevine, Texas.
"Our military children are awesome, just as their parents are," he said. "But they have extra hurdles to clear, burdens to bear -- repeated moves, the absence of a parent at war, an injured parent, or the loss of a parent."
Children of servicemembers also make unique sacrifices during peacetime, including frequent moves that can require them to attend up to nine different schools between kindergarten and high school graduation, Gates said. He added that most teenagers of military members attend at least two high schools.
"Because of the unique way the husbands and wives, the sons and daughters of our all-volunteer force serve this nation, we have a sacred responsibility to care for them," he said.
The secretary praised the Military Child Education Coalition, which in its 10-year history has assisted nearly 2 million children whose parents serve in the armed forces, helping ease school-related responsibilities like transferring student records, course grades and credit hours, among other duties.
Gates also highlighted several Defense Department-led initiatives designed to mitigate the demands placed on military families and applauded an agreement signed by the departments of Defense and Education to facilitate the strain placed on deployed families returning from overseas.
The nation demonstrated its gratitude to military families, Gates said, when Congress and President Bush last month enacted a new Montgomery GI Bill that, for the first time, will allow education benefits to be passed to family members if troops opt not to use it themselves.
"Transferring educational benefits to a servicemember's spouse or child underscores the monumental importance of 'the power behind the power' -- the husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters of our men and women in uniform," Gates said.
In closing, Gates called the all-volunteer members of U.S. armed forces "the heart and soul" of America.
"They joined up to leave the world a better place for all children," he said. "Our men and women in uniform are giving something very special to future generations: a legacy of service before self.
"They are a force for good in the world," he added.