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'Little C.H.A.M.P.S' Bridges Understanding Between Military Families, Civilian Neighbors

Thursday, October 25, 2012

By Joseph Andrew Lee 

Separation anxiety is the first–and most profound–of the fears that we face in life, according to psychiatrist Dr. Deborah R. Pollack.

“Leaving, being left, entering new and unpredictable situations … these are the challenges that we encounter over and over again,” Dr. Pollack said. “But military kids face more separations from parents, extended families and communities–and at earlier ages–than most. How do they do it? How can we help them navigate through these rough waters?”

Pollack’s words come in the form of her endorsement for a new children’s book called “Little C.H.A.M.P.S (Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel),” written by Debbie and Jennifer Fink in an attempt to bridge understanding between military children and their civilian peers and teachers.

Jennifer Fink was inspired to help explore this topic after witnessing an inordinately high level of anxiety in the children of wounded, ill and injured troops she helped care for while volunteering at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. As a college student studying Public Health and Military Studies at the University of Maryland, Jennifer was struck with the idea of partnering with her mother–author and educator Debbie Fink–to write a book that would help normalize the relationship between C.H.A.M.P.S and their civilian classmates and neighbors.

The USO has teamed with the Finks to provide the book to children in military families in an attempt to prepare them for the ups and downs of life as a dependent. It’s part of the USO’s Grant a Wish for Our Heroes Veterans Day campaign, where the organization is giving Americans opportunities to thank our heroes in the armed forces by granting wishes.

The book begins with a very important section titled, “A Note to Adults,” which explains the underpinnings of certain stories and key moments to look for validation while providing some guidance about respecting the feelings of the young reader. The story itself explores topics related to military deployment and transition through the eyes of five elementary school-aged children whose parents serve in each branch of the military. Connected by a common bond, the group is tested at the end of the book when they must part ways. The authors present different mechanisms for the expression of the children’s fears, and each child ultimately reaches deep within to learn strengths that will help them build the resiliency necessary for life as a C.H.A.M.P.

Some may wonder: “What’s wrong with the term, military brat? Why C.H.A.M.P.S?”

While most children of military personnel learn over time that “brat” is an endearing term, their civilian peers are not likely to understand. More importantly, the Finks believe the term might even lend to a negative first impression for C.H.A.M.P.S.

The modern word brat actually came from an acronym that dates back hundreds of years into the British Empire. It originally stood for British Regiment Attached Traveler.

“We declared our independence 236 years ago and it’s about time our Little C.H.A.M.P.S did the same,” Debbie Fink said. “There’s no need to give them a label that may add to their already challenging situation. Why not call them what they are? Little C.H.A.M.P.S!”

Debbie and Jennifer had more than enough interest, compassion and experience to write the book from an outsider’s perspective, but they needed someone who had been in the military to complete their tri-generational puzzle. That’s where Vietnam-era Navy veteran Walter Blackwell, former President and CEO of the National Veterans Business Development Corporation (TVC), came in. As the book’s illustrator, Blackwell’s visuals complement the Finks’ writing to convey subtle yet important jargon that stand out to those who have served in the military.

“It was and had to be a community effort,” Jennifer Fink said. “We wrote the first draft and the military community around us came in to fill in the gaps. Enlisted, officers, military spouses, USO volunteers and even C.H.A.M.P.S themselves had a hand in the development.”

“All those little things that we take for granted in civilian life are all very important linkages to how children communicate who are not bonded and linked across services,” Blackwell said. “The real spirit of this book [is] combining and looking at all five services–the similarities, the differences, yet the bond that holds them all together. That’s the kind of bond we had when we were doing this.”

In addition to celebrating C.H.A.M.P.S and validating their military-connected challenges through the book, the Finks have launched the C.H.A.M.P.S Project, a public health initiative to donate copies of their book to military children around the globe. The C.H.A.M.P.S Project will also perform interactive musical events at military installations and schools. 

“Too many of our military children in public schools feel like their classmates and teachers do not understand what they are going through,” Debbie Fink said. “We are here to change that sentiment. We will build the bridge of understanding.”

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Donate today to support our troops this Veterans Day during the USO’s "Grant a Wish for Our Heroes" campaign. 

Federal employees can help the USO fulfill its mission to support troops and their families though the 2012 Combined Federal Campaign. Please designate #11381. 

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