The years since September 11, 2001 have challenged America’s military families. More than 1.5 million soldiers have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, including more than 420,000 reservists and members of the National Guard. These deployments have affected many island households. Our state is home to more than 44,000 military personnel, and active-duty servicepersons and their dependents together make up about ten percent of our population.
Through 4-H programs for children, teens, parents, and staff, CTAHR reaches out to families with members serving in the U.S. Army, Air Force, Army Reserves, and Hawai‘i Army and Air Force National Guards. The project started in 2000 with the formation of 15 4-H clubs involving 160 young people at Army installations on O‘ahu. In 2007, it included more than 50 military 4-H clubs and helped 850 youths in Hawai‘i, Japan, and Kwajalein built their skills and leadership ability. In addition, military staff members and parents who work with young people receive training from CTAHR faculty. CTAHR’s 4-H military liaison Claire Nakatsuka received the second annual U.S Department of Agriculture/Army Youth Development Project Salute Award in 2004 for fostering these partnerships.
Following the January 2005 deployment of Hawai‘i Army National Guard troops to Iraq, CTAHR participated for two years in Operation Military Kids. Working with military partners and the Boys and Girls Club of Honolulu, Hawai‘i 4-H helped youth service providers understand the impact of deployment, assisted the children of deployed soldiers in learning digital communication skills to stay in touch with their parents overseas, and offered support and special events for National Guard families. A much-loved part of this program, Hero Packs for the children of deployed citizen-soldiers, has extended past its funding. The packs, which include donated goods and a letter from another young person, are now assembled by 4-H youth as a service-learning project that teaches about the sacrifices made by our volunteer forces and their families.