AFA Policy Forum
Dr. Jean L. Silvernail
DoD Program Analyst, Military Child in Transition and Deployment
"Issues of the Mobile Child"
Air & Space Conference 2004—Washington, DC
September 13, 2004
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Dr. Silvernail: It's really a pleasure to be here. I was just talking to some folks earlier and saying
how wonderful it is as I looked over a 25-year career of being involved with military families and seeing how
programs have evolved and how conferences now are involving more and more to do with the families. That's
exciting to somebody like me, who's spent such a long career doing those sort of things.
Help me out with who you are in the room. How many of you are parents? [Majority raise hands] All right.
How many of you have been military kids yourselves? [A few raise hands] Okay. Good. Then I can tell you
anything. Okay. [Laughter]
When we first started out, and this was in the year 2000, the Department of Defense invented a new division
called “Educational Opportunities,” and what they did is, within that, made a section called the “Military Child
Our title was changed very soon after that to read “Military Child in Transition and Deployment,” and when I
was going through a lot of the research on military children and trauma and war and all those sorts of things,
one of the statistics that I thought was so fascinating is that in the 3,428 years of recorded history, we have
only ever had 268 years war-free, so maybe we should always have anticipated that it would be Military Child in
Transition and Deployment.
But it has been a real eye-opener for many people to know what's really involved with these kids, and that's
something that I want to share with you today. What have we learned about who the military child is, and then,
secondly, what is the Department of Defense doing about it? So I'll share those two things with you this
First, to let you in on some of the demographics of the military child ... There are two different ways that
they tend to be educated. One is through Department of Defense schools, and we often think of the huge numbers
that are accommodated in those schools, but actually, the only reason the number is so large is because kids are
in and out of it.
But the truth is, at one time, at any one time, there are only 104,000 military children that are in
Department of Defense schools. The rest of the time, about 1.2 million military kids are mostly in the public
school system. A few are home-schooled, some of them in private schools, but for the most part, we're talking
about the public school system.
And then the next question is, so what's the profile on these children? For the most part, what we need to do
is think about what grade levels they're in, and about 80% of our children—and remember I'm going to talk
completely in purple here, that is in all four of the services, because as a DOD person, that's the way that I'm
operating—are in sixth or seventh grade and below, so actually they're young children, and the reason for that,
of course, is that most of you leave us by the time your kids are in high school, so we have a much smaller high
I thought it might be interesting to you to see where these kids are located, and we have—actually, if you
took the top ten states, you would get most of our children. In fact, in Virginia alone, there are almost 83,000
military children. We're talking mostly Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Texas, and California. And
those are the biggest states for military children. And of course, they're the states where you'll see a lot of
our Department of Defense schools.
This gives you an idea of who's helping to represent you on the committee that I chair. It's a committee
that's put together by each of the service secretaries, and they select a person that represents your service,
and in your case, it's Bill Cornell. This is a Pentagon person and he comes to each of our meetings and has for
many years represented the Air Force. And his responsibility is to sit on there and to talk about issues that
are very specific to Air Force children and specific Air Force concerns. And we often do talk about specific
bases and how we're going to deal with different situations on each of the bases, so all of the services have
In addition, we also have a representative from the Department of Defense schools, Jan Witty, who is the head
of Children and Youth Services for the Department of Defense. Also, Rebecca Pesante, who is the head of Special
Services. This is for children with special needs, your EFMP children. So there's good representation there,
and certainly keep Bill's name in mind, because if you have an issue that you want raised, he is the person that
will do that for you.
Once we got a committee together representing all of the services, we had to figure out what it is we were
supposed to be doing that was going to make a difference for kids. And we figured that it really went into three
The first one was to figure out what the issues are. And then, once we had them figured out, phase two was to
start developing a plan that was going to match the needs of these children. And the third one was to implement
it, but to make sure that it was implemented on several different levels, and I think that that's the most
critical part of what we’re doing.
The grassroots level is very important, and the one that we went to first, and that was for the military
families. Then we also approached it from the installation and the school districts that served those
installations. And from there went into the state and national levels. So at this point, we have all of these
levels moving at one time and working together, and we're pretty pleased with some of the outcomes, and I'm
anxious to share some of those with you.
When we talk about transition issues, it's important to know who these kids are. They're yours and they're
going through a lot of challenges. Some students can go through it a lot more gracefully than others. Some
have a really tough time of it, and one of the things we wanted to know was why do some kids struggle more than
others. And we'll go through, in just a moment, a research project that has just started that will involve some
of your children. It will help us to understand that a whole lot more.
One of the things I need you to help me with is a conversation that you have probably heard many times, and I
know I have, and it really took about the fifth time for me to hear it, and I finally said, “okay, I need to do
something about this.”
This conversation usually goes something like this … “Ah, you know these kids. They're resilient. They
bounce back. You know, times are tough, but kids know how to handle this stuff.”
The truth of the matter is, we have absolutely no proof that that's true. None. We have no proof that these
kids just bounce back, and part of the reason we don't have any proof of that is because when we've gone to study
these kids in the past, when you read through all of the research that's been done on military children and their
adjustments to war, to transitions, to all those sorts of things, guess who they ask, “how well did this child do
through this sort of thing?”
They ask the deployed person, the person who's been out of the scene all together. "How did your child do
while you were gone?"
"Well, he did great. He was fine. He really hung in there. He did a great job. He looked after his mom.
He looked after his sisters. Everything was great."
And if we're really lucky, they sometimes ask the spouse that stayed behind, and then we get a little bit more
of a picture. But remember that spouses, too, are on overload, and spouses are taking care of more than just
that one child, and they're taking care of a lot of personal concerns too, and they're doing a lot of their own
adjusting to things, and it's really not humanly possible for any of us, no matter how good we are at mothering
or fathering, to figure out how each individual child is really dealing with this whole thing.
The truth of the matter is the voice of the child has not been heard. We don't ask the kids. And what a sad
thing, because if you're a parent, you know very well that if you ask your child a question, they're going to
answer you and they're going to tell it like it is, so we know that we could get great data from these children
if we would only go to the source, so that's part of what we're trying to do now.
So when you hear somebody say, "Ah, kids. You know, they can handle it. They can handle anything," say to
them, "Who told you that? How do you figure that's true?" because we're not so certain that it is.
I'm not trying to paint this terribly bleak picture of every time mom or dad deploys or every time there's a
PCS move, that kids are ready to commit suicide or anything like that. I'm not in any way trying to paint that
kind of picture, but I'm saying there are challenges that go with changes that are that big, and we're really
being unfair to kids when we just wipe it away, saying "Ah, it's nothing. Kids can handle it. No problems at
all." That's not fair to a child. So that's one of the things, one of the myths, that I'm hoping that you'll
go away wanting to erase.
Another one to keep in mind is that people have studied the grief cycle and human beings always go through a
grief cycle when there's any kind of loss. Now, depending on what the loss is, of course, the grief cycle is
smaller than others. But you figure that, for a child who is leaving behind the community he knows; the friends
that he has; the teacher that, hopefully, he enjoys being with; the security of the school, because he at least
understands the rules, the expectations and all of that; and that's a very calming part in anybody's life; and
then all of a sudden he gets plucked out and is going to an entirely different place, maybe even a different
country, those are big-time adjustments.
What they did is, when they studied the grief cycle, they realized that it takes human beings anywhere from
one to three years to work through a grief cycle. Well, you figure if every child moves about every two years
or three years, there are many of our military kids who never, in their entire school lives, get out of the grief
cycle. Ever. That's pretty amazing.
Emotions do override our ability to perform at our very best. They do. It's a human thing. There's nothing
we can do to change that. We can alter it. That is, we can put in support systems, and that's what we want to
do. But we're all going to go through that cycle. There's no such thing as cutting it off. We're all going to
move through it.
So, when you see kids in that light, we start to realize we need to do something about this, and that's where
the Department of Defense started to say, "Okay. We have to face up to the fact that we have a responsibility
here. If we have about 1.2 million kids out there, what are we doing to support some of the challenges that
they're going through?" And those are some of the things that I'll be sharing with you.
They are three times more likely to move than are their peers who are not in the military, and by the time
they go to college, most of them will have moved at least 10 times. Now, that's a lot of moving around, and of
course, we're even counting when they're newborns when we talk about those moves, but nevertheless, in their
lives, that is the way that they live.
My daughter did as well. We really had a nomad existence. Ever year and a half or two years, I would get a
different position and we'd be moving to a different spot in a military base or in, often, a new country.
So one of the things we did is to get a research study going. We said, "All right. There are certain things
we need to know." Congress has put aside money and, for several years now, has designated a university to be in
charge of what they call the Military Family Research Institute. This year, it's housed at Purdue University.
In fact, it has been for a couple years now, and so what we're doing is working with them to design this study.
Barksdale Air Force Base is the base where we're going to be studying children very intently for the Air Force.
Each one of the services is going to have a different installation where we'll go in and work with the school
districts and try to find out about this adjustment cycle. What does it really look like? What are all the
stages in this cycle?
Then, once we understand that, to say, “where are all the support systems that we could put in place along the
way to make sure that kids can move through it in a relatively painless kind of way?” How can we support them
socially, emotionally, and academically? That's what we're going to try to do. And so the school districts that
surround the Barksdale Air Force Base are working with us to help design this study.
There's also another study that you may very well be involved in, even if you're not assigned to this
particular installation, that will come out through DoD, and I would hope that you would fill it out. It is a
survey, and I know that we have all been surveyed to death, and one of the things we don't need when we're PCSing
is one more survey to fill out.
But this one is really significant. There's one for the husband, one for the wife, and one for whatever child
you want to choose, if they're old enough to fill one out. And we send it, first, before the family PCS’s. We
send it again right after you PCS. And then we send it two more times, but that's over another year and a half,
because we want to see how the family is adjusting, too.
And that goes out to over 8,000 military families, and it's across all services, because we really want to
start finding out how families support each other. How do some of us make it through the cycle more easily than
others? How do we help our kids get through that cycle more easily?
So if you do get one of those, I would really appreciate your taking the time to fill it out. It is about 40
minutes of your time that you're going to have to give to fill this out, but it will be so very valuable to us.
Then, when we were working as a committee saying, “okay, now we've figured out what the issues are.” We had
round-table discussions. We had forums. We did surveys. We sat down with kids. We talked to them one-to-one,
we talked to them on a larger scale, and we really got a host of the issues, and we did it all the way from the
state of Washington to Washington, D.C., and then also in Europe. So we got a pretty good picture of what these
kids felt were problems with transitioning.
We thought, “well now, how do we go about getting to kids and how do we go about getting to the people that
support them when they're scattered all over the world?” And one of the things we did was put a website together.
The address is http://militarystudent.org. There’s an advertisement here in your folder.
If you know of a place where kids gather, I would appreciate it if you'd put this up so that kids would see it.
Unfortunately, the budget I have is so small that we had just enough money to get it up and keep it maintained,
but not enough to do a good PR campaign on it, so those who use it have really raved about the content that's on
it, but not enough people know about it yet. It's been in Air Force Times and things like that, but there's
still certainly plenty of places we need to make people aware.
I'll take you into the homepage of it right now, just so that you can see what sorts of things are in it,
because I think you're going to find it very valuable. It is seven websites under one umbrella, and in it there's
a whole section for kids that are six years old to 12 years old, and when you go into that section, it's very
obviously designed for kids and there's lots of color and lots of splash and dash, and there's all sorts of
things that talk to them about how can they get ready for a move, how you make new friends when you get to a new
place, all those kinds of things.
For teenagers, there's a whole other section, the same sort of thing, but we get a little more serious with
them. When we asked them, "What kind of things do you want to know?" they said, "we want to know how old you
have to be before you can drive in that state" so we have a place where you can click and find out how to get a
driver's license, and all kinds of other things that are of concerns to teenagers.
There's even a place where you can go to contact kids in the place where you're going to ask them, “what kind
of clothes are you wearing, what kind of music does everybody listen to”—all the things that make you an ‘in
person.’ They want to know them before they arrive, and this is a website that can help them do that.
There is also a section for you, the parents, and it talks about how you can help to support a child during
the move, some things to be thinking about when you make those moves, how can you contact the schools to find out
which one is the best for you, and so on.
There's one for special needs families, too, and there's one for military leaders. Then there's a whole
section for school educators as well, because I spent a lot of times in public schools before I spent 25 years
with military kids, and I really believe that there's not a public school teacher that gets up in the morning
and says, "I'd like to make a military kid's life miserable today." They're not doing that consciously, but
they also don't understand military kids. They don't understand the issues, and it's because, frankly, nobody
sat them down and told them that there were any issues that they needed to be concerned about.
What I find is, when I go out to speak to school districts and superintendents, and even governors in states
and things like that, they're aghast. They had no idea. They said, "We didn't know that your kids when through
things like this. We didn't know that we put so many roadblocks in their way."
It's a matter of kind of tearing these roadblocks down, and how do you that? You have to make people aware.
And so this whole section that's on here right now starts talking about who military kids are and what could you
be doing to help them out.
So that's our website. Also, by the way, you'll see a section on there that's called “Promising Practices.”
You can go on to that and it tells you neat things that are going on in schools all over the world that are
supporting military kids, some great ideas that could be shared.
Just below that, it says “Department of Defense Publications.” We have written some guide books that you can
pull directly off the web and print, which are meant for parents during deployment time, during reunions, and
also for teachers and the like. Hopefully, that'll be very helpful to you.
One of the other things that we've been putting together is an online teacher course. We know that teachers
are in-serviced often, and we also know that, in most states, they have to continue taking credits so that they
can continue their certification. So we thought, “well, why not put a course on the web?”
We're in the process of doing that right now. When I scanned the country to find out who was going to get to
write this thing, I really lucked out, because we found two fabulous people.
One of them is Dr. Robin Goodman, who has been the head of the Child Study Center in child trauma at NYU and
is the number one person in the United States in that area. She's the person that was called in when the
Oklahoma City bombing occurred and they wanted to work with kids to try to help them in the adjustment there.
She's also the same person that was called in during 9/11. And so she has a tremendous amount of expertise in
working with kids and helping them adjust and helping others help them adjust.
The other person is Dr. Robert Blum, who is, again, the number one person in the United States, actually in
the world. He's now at Johns Hopkins University, and studies connectiveness. The idea behind connectiveness
is—for example, in Columbine, one of the things they found in the horrible situation there was that it happened
because those kids never felt like they were a part of the school. They never felt like they belonged. They
never felt like anybody cared about them. They never felt any kind of attachment to that school at all.
Our kids, although it's certainly no Columbine situation, rotate in and out of schools, and when schools are
not prepared to really receive them and make them feel like they're wanted and cared for, they often are kind of
that persona non grata that kind of wanders in through the school district and, in two years, wanders back out
Some kids have a really hard time making that adjustment because they're not all outgoing kids, and so they
don't all have an easy time of breaking into cliques and things like that. That's a tough thing to do.
So his study on connectiveness shows how school districts, the entire school district, can start changing
itself so that it becomes very receptive and very kid-friendly. You know, like we want to have you here. We
value having you here.
So he's doing it on three different levels for us. One is across an entire school district and how they could
make changes there. Another one is, what would you do within a school? How does a school change in order to
promote this sort of thing? And then he even gets into the classroom. If your whole school isn't going to do
it or your whole school district isn't going to do it, as a classroom teacher, you can make it happen right in
your four walls, and he talks about how to make that happen.
One of the things we know is that kids can become connected that fast if they have one adult that they believe
cares about them. Just one. And that's pretty easy for a school to do, if they understand all that's behind
making that happen.
So that's part of our on-line course. I'm really excited about that. The content of it will be finished
being written by the end of this month and then we'll be ready to put it online probably by January, so it's
exciting that it's moving along.
There’s also a list of the publications that we have that you can pull off of the website that you can tell
your schools about. One is an educator's guide to the military child during deployment and the other one is an
educator's guide for reunion, and then a parent's guide to children during deployment and reunion.
The last one is actually a book that's written by Dr. Goodman that she has given to us, for military kids.
It's on the website and you can pull it down and actually print it out, and NYU has blessed the use of it as
well, and it's called “Caring for Kids in Trauma and Death: A Guide to Parents and Professionals.” And this is
for times when parents are wounded or parents die in action, and these schools have to find ways to help kids
through this, too. It's a wonderful resource for us to have in order to share with them.
Dr. Chu, who is our Under Secretary of Defense for Military Personnel, has been trying for a long time to
speak to governors and to let them know what the issues are for kids, and the door has always been closed. We
are fortunate right now, because the National Governors Association, which all governors belong to, has a
rotating chair every year, and this year it is Governor Mark Warner, and he has ended up being the greatest
advocate for military kids. We never dreamed we were going to have this kind of good luck, and he has literally
opened all the doors to us, and we have access to governors that we never had before, to the point where they
have actually invited us to write the policy for them. We go in and write it.
They have also given us access to another group. That's the National Congress for State Legislators, and
this is a congress that all state legislators are involved in, and we work with them now, and I literally write
the laws that they can pass now to change things for the benefit of your military children. It's just incredible
that that could have happened. It's one of those things where all the stars suddenly got aligned and we are very
fortunate to be able to have made this happen.
So we're working on issues like reciprocity. For example, if you had a child who's in special ed or gifted
ed or a child who has English as a second language, then you know that, going from one state to the next state,
sometimes they get accommodated this way. Sometimes all they have to do is cross a border and all of a sudden
they don't have any of the same opportunities any more. People don't teach them the same way. They have all
kinds of difficulties in transferring. Well, they want to write into legislation that, when you go from one
state to the other, that in fact, they will start accommodating them in very different ways.
The reason that all of this is so earth-shaking is because education is a states' rights issue. It's not the
purview of a federal government, and the federal government has never been allowed to penetrate this part of
things at all. It's in the Constitution as a right of states, so we've never been able to make any headway
there, and suddenly, there are states that are very receptive, and the truth of the matter is, if we can only get
10 states on board, and if they're the right states as you saw on that colored map a little bit earlier, we
really will have made that happen for most of our kids and then the others, of course, will come along. It's
very exciting to know that we're moving in this direction.
For example, we have kids that are high school seniors, being transferred in the middle of their senior years.
They’re going to another state, and all of a sudden, that state tells them that if they don't have Mississippi
state history, they’re not going to graduate.
And they're going, "What do you mean I can't graduate? I have everything I need, and when I was in Virginia,
I took Virginia state history. Doesn't that count for anything?" Well, there actually is legislation now in
several of the states where it's almost a forgiveness clause. If you come with anything that's equivalent to
their own state history, which is often a very generic kind of government class, then that suffices. So we're
making some headway there.
Florida, in this last year, has passed five bills that have been totally for military kids. It's unbelievable
what has started to happen there. Everything from tuition assistance to in-state tuition. It used to be, if you
moved into a state, you probably weren't even going to be in that state long enough to get in-state tuition. And
if you were lucky enough to get it, then as soon as you got your child in college and into that in-state tuition
thing, then you were sent to another state and they said, "Ah, you're not a resident anymore. That kid now pays
out-of-state tuition," and those tuition rates went back up.
Florida is now saying, from the time you walk in, you will become a state resident when it comes to our state
colleges and universities, and if you leave us, your child can remain on—and paying in-state tuition costs.
Several states, now, are adopting that, too. There are lots of changes coming in that way, so we've very excited
I'll talk just a few minutes about deployment issues and what is it all about when one parent leaves. You
know, when I was a principal in DOD schools in Germany during the Gulf War, I often pulled kids aside and would
say, "Hey, how you doing today? How are things going?" And we'd have a lot of conversations and I'd go to lunch
rooms and I'd listen.
And sometimes, there would be a knock on my door and there would be a kid and he'd say, "I want to talk," and
he'd just pull up a chair and sit and talk. And so you really got to understand where they were coming from and
how they were feeling and how they were working through all of the issues. In those days, it was mostly dads off
to war. I was, at that point, in Aschaffenburg and it was 90% deployment, so we're talking about mostly kids
without their dads.
What I heard, for the most part, if you could summarize all that was said, was, "I know my dad is in an unsafe
place and I am very worried about him."
Well, now we take Gulf War II after a bit of world history has passed, and when I talk to a child at that
same age, what I hear is this: "I'm really worried about my mom or dad because they're in a place that's not
safe and I don't know really where they are and I'm really worried about their safety." But then they add this,
which could never have been said before: "And they left me in an unsafe place." That's the first time we ever
heard anything like that, and that's what 9/11 did for our kids.
All of a sudden, the protector is gone. The person that they felt was going to keep them safe is the very
person who's out of the picture. And you know, well, the first time I heard that, I thought, “wow, I would never
have thought about that.” Now, I hear it again and again and again, so I know that it's very definitely
something that's on their mind. But how fascinating that, in a span of just a very few years, so much could have
changed in the thinking of a child, and so it's something that we really do need to come to grips with and work
If kids have an extremely strong support system there, if they have a social support system, that is, lots of
friends, lots of places to go, things to do, things to get involved in, and if they have a sense of community—like
I belong here, people care about me—they are likely to experience some negative emotions, but on a less intense
They're all going to be fearful and anxious. Any of us would be. Anybody who has a loved one anywhere that's
in harm's way is obviously going to have that feeling. But the degree of intensity has everything to do with how
close the people are that are still around you, how convinced you are that they care about you and that they'll
support you, and that you have a community where you fit in and you feel like you belong. So when that happens,
kids have a much better chance.
In terms of academics, we know that anxiety overrides thinking ability. It just does. So in many cases,
performance declines. Absenteeism also increases and there's often a school phobia, and part of that is because
the child wants to stay as close to that family network as he/she can. “I don't want to go to school.” So those
are parts of the problem.
One of the things we also know about military kids is that reunions are tough on them. They're filled with
this strange mixture of “I can't wait to see this parent” and all the excitement that goes with having a parent
return, and also a second feeling—and this I hear articulated best of all from junior high and high school
kids—is, “oops, things are going to change back, and there were some things that changed that I really liked.”
One of those things is that, when an important member of the family, that is, a decision maker and someone who
has everything to do with how the family runs, is out of the picture, the responsibility gets distributed among
kids, especially the older ones, and they suddenly are privy to some decision-making, because mom often uses them
as sounding boards. Mom often turns to them instead of the dad who isn't there and says, "Well, how do you think
we ought to do this?" or, "How do you think we ought to solve this problem?" or, "What do you think we ought to
do about it?"
Well, it's not going to be quite that way again. They have a sense of independence, a sense of feeling almost
like they have part of the run of the family, and those things are going to change back. So there's a part of it
that's tough for kids who have learned to feel their oats a little bit and feel like they're a little bit more
adult, maybe, than they would have otherwise.
Then there's the wounded military members and they're ones that we just need to be thinking about as well,
because they are certainly a part of our communities, and the National Military Family Association has said a
wounded military member is a wounded family, and we know that the differences, the changes that are going to be
made, will be made for the entire family, not just the returning person.
I kept hearing through e-mail, through phone calls and the like, that families at Camp Pendleton are having
some tough times right now. Especially kids are having difficulties. “Is there anything that DOD can do to
help us? We need some help.”
I don't have a budget, but I have a lot of connections, and so what I ended up doing is I called the National
Child Traumatic Stress Network. Their headquarters on the west coast is at UCLA. I called them up and I said,
"We need your expertise," and paired them up with the people on the base at Camp Pendleton in the Children and
Youth division, and essentially said this: "Look, I don't want any experts. I'm not pulling these experts to
come in and tell you what to do. I am asking the people on this base to say what are you already offering that
is working, and then where are the holes in this program? Where are the places where kids are slipping through
the cracks? Where are the places where they're not being accommodated as they should?" And those are the places
that were addressed. The difference this is making is incredible at Camp Pendleton.
Those are the sorts of things that we can be doing. So if you know of places that have crises then know that
we will do what we can to make things happen for them.
The same with Walter Reed. I went to Walter Reed and I said, “what do you so when there's a wounded person?”
They said, “well, we have quite a staff that works with the wounded.” I said, “okay, how about the spouse?”
They said, “well, sometimes we work with the spouse.” I said, “how about the children?” We don't usually have
a program for the kids.
This is one scenario. It doesn't always obviously happen this way, but I've picked it as an examples to share
with you. Let's say there is a child who has a wounded parent. They're at Offutt Air Force Base and the parent
is coming in first through Walter Reed because it's an amputee. If that were to happen, the parent, the mother
usually, or the spouse that's been left behind, goes to join the parent that's wounded. That leaves the child
behind, and most people haven't explained it too well because they don't know how to tell the child what's really
So the child is now actually parentless. Not only has dad been gone for a long time, but now mom is with him
and he's with neighbors who don't really know what to tell the child or how to tell them what's going on and so
one of the things that we are doing is buying PC cameras and we have them so that they can be attached to the
child's computer at home. Walter Reed has them there. We have counselors that sit with the child and say,
“okay, we're going to get to talk to your mom or dad today.” They call the dad or mom at Walter Reed and say,
“okay, here are some of the concerns that your child has. These are some of the questions they'll want answered,”
just so there's a bit of a heads-up. Then they'll say to the child, “here are some concerns that your mom or dad
has, and here are some things they're worried about. Here are some things you might want to say to them when you
see them on the camera.” So they help walk them through in the beginning, sort of a hand-holding thing. Then
after awhile it's not necessary at all. The kids just communicate with the parents and everything's fine.
You can imagine how difficult it must be for a very young child to not know what's going on. Because
whenever there's a vacuum of information, children's imagination fills the vacuum. So it’s best that we help
them. And we don't need to give lots of detail, but we do need to start helping them understand a little bit
what's going on.
We're also trying to work up a camp for kids with wounded parents as well.
We have partnerships that do incredible things for our kids, everything from tutoring programs that they're
working on on a one-to-one basis, to doing research for us, and so on. So there's an awful lot that's going on
that they're shouldering the burden financially and with their own expertise. We are the very fortunate
recipients of the gifts that they're giving.
Summing up, these kids idolize you, absolutely idolize you. The influence you have in their lives is beyond
anything that any of us will really ever understand. So whatever we can be doing to make a difference for them
is very important. I'm very grateful to have had the opportunity to share some of these things with you.
Q: You talked about the legislation for military children in the different states. What I've seen is
that there are qualitative differences in the education a child might receive in a DoD school or in a public
school in, say, California versus Florida. With vigorous testing on standards, some of these mobile kids are
falling behind. Is that being addressed at all?
Dr. Silvernail: As a state's right issue for the federal government, it’s very tough for the
Department of Defense to go to them and say, “you know what? You have lousy schools and our kids really don't
want to be in your schools and our parents don’t particularly want their kids to be in these schools, so what are
you going to do to spruce up your act?" We're trying very hard, and our Department of Defense schools have been
quite successful. In fact, when it comes to national testing, we now rank in the very highest tier there is for
testing kids nationally. So obviously we've figured out how to do it.
Now, as an administrator of DOD schools, I have to remind them that there are a lot of plusses for being in a
DOD school. But nevertheless, we have figured some things out and one of the things we've been requested to do
by some Members of Congress is to figure out a way to package what we do and share it with school districts that
want to know how to improve things. So that's one we're trying to do it. How we do it will have everything to do
with the success of it. We don't want to go in and say, “we've got the answers and if you just listen and do
things our way everything would be fine.” But that's one thing we are trying.
One example … In Hawaii, the Congress appropriates an enormous amount of money that actually goes directly to
PACOM and they distribute it in the schools. They distribute it by a committee they have that makes the decisions.
Schools have to apply and they have to tell them what it's for, but they buy everything from textbooks to new
playgrounds and all sorts of things. So that's another way that we're trying to work our way through to make
some improvements in education.
Another way is through training of teachers and helping them understand who our kids are and what their needs
Any suggestions that you have along this line, too, are going to be very important to us because we know this
is the next thing we've got to tackle and it's a big one.
Q: Does your office within the Department of Defense administer the Impact Aid program?
Dr. Silvernail: Actually, the Department of Education is the one that administers Impact Aid. However,
Department of Defense provides Supplemental Impact Aid, and yes, it's the division I'm in that does that. We
also have special Impact Aid funding for children that are severely disabled. Military children can impact a
school district financially in very great ways.
Q: Is Congress funding Impact Aid at the maximum level?
Dr. Silvernail: Actually, Congress hasn't funded the program at its highest level for a very long
time. I don't know what the chances of that happening will ever be. One of the misnomers that we have as
military parents is we often believe that when we take our children to a public school we are taking money to
that school. Let me share with you some of the things that don't happen.
By the way, for some of you where Impact Aid is new, you're not sure what this is. What has happened is the
U.S. government about 50 years ago realized that when they, for example, build an Air Force base, nobody else
can build there and it can't be taxed. There can't be houses that can be taxed, there can't be businesses there
that can be taxed and you can't tax the federal government. So these communities have lost huge amounts of
revenue. Of course most of that revenue goes into schools. We were dumping all of our kids into their school
systems, but we weren't giving them a tax base to work off of. So the federal government was trying to give
money per capita that would help in this case.
What has happened instead—the concept behind it is a very good one—Congress gives X amount of money and each
year it's a different sized pot, but it's still fairly small, and then school districts apply. Of course, you're
ranked by what percentage of children in your school are military kids. Those schools with the most military
kids get paid first.
When the pot is empty, the pot is empty and all the other people that have applied simply get nothing. So we
often have this misconception that we come with a lot. The truth is a lot of our kids are not worth anything
financially to a school district. And those who are, for example, there's a difference. If you live on base
you're worth one amount of money. If you live off base you're worth another amount of money. If you're off base
I think right now it's approximately $240 dollars. You know what that buys? It doesn't even buy the textbooks
for your child for a year. So we're not talking about a lot of money here unfortunately. Impact Aid is
something that's a blessing to the school districts but also a frustration to them.
Q: How does all this play in with the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process? Will the number of
military kids in an area affect whether a base remains open?
Dr. Silvernail: Absolutely. This is the lever. Yes. That's exactly what it is.
It plays in big time. Florida was green. Do you know why Florida is green? Florida is green because it
decided it gets so much money from the American military, it is their second biggest income. Tourism is first,
military is second. If they lose the military from that state they lose income by the billions. So they knew
they were going to have to do this. And we have made it known that quality of life is going to be one of the
considerations for whether a base stays open or is closed. One of the considerations. Certainly there are
others and you know others will take precedent. But nevertheless, it is one of the things we're going to
So some of the states have gotten very proactive and said, “okay, then we'll do something to convince you that
we're serious about wanting you here.” That's why there has been this rush of legislation, the willingness. So
yes, this is a lever for us.
By the way, it works a little bit in reverse, too. We have the BRAC, but remember there are about 50,000 of
our children that will be leaving Europe and coming to public schools in the United States and the public schools
are going, “where in the world will we ever get the funding for these kids? When you land 2,000 extra children
in our back yard over a summer, what are we going to do to build schools, get new teachers, buy textbooks and get
ready for those kids?” So there's panic on the other end, too.
Q: When there is a large influx of military children to an area, do public schools sometimes
reevaluate their plans to attract military families? Can they draw on Impact Aid to cover additional costs?
Dr. Silvernail: Actually, Impact Aid won't do that. However, interestingly enough, some congressmen
have gotten into the act, especially in Tennessee right now and they have said, “wait a minute.”
Take the Army, for example. There was a rumor that at Fort Campbell there would be as many as 15,000 new kids
coming in to Fort Campbell. The schools surrounding Fort Campbell said, “you have got to be kidding us. When
are you going to tell us this is going to happen? And how are we ever going to get ready for this? And where
will we ever get the money in that short of notice to ever do anything to be set for these kids?”
Their senator went to bat and actually got the millions of dollars as a start-up fee to say, “okay, we know
we've penalized you tremendously here. This is to get you started. We don't give you any more money after that,
but if you need to build something, do some initial hiring, okay,” and we do it until Impact Aid and other things
can kick in down the line.
So strange things are happening right now. What we don't know is whether that's going to set a precedent now
or whether that's a one-time deal.
Q: Can you divert any of the money that's being used for kids overseas now that the administration is
planning on reducing some of that infrastructure?
Dr. Silvernail: This is the big BRAC issue and of course you know all about doing that when you close
down a base overseas. Unfortunately, they are from different pots of money, so the transfer thing doesn't work
easily like that. But we certainly are examining budgets for the Department of Defense Educational Activity
(DoDEA) to say, “you know, you're not going to need the same budget when you're minus 50,000 kids.”
The biggest expense any school district has is teachers' salaries. So when you have 50,000 kids leave, you
can imagine you have an awful lot of teachers that have to leave as well. When that happens, obviously the
expense of running a school district drops markedly. So we'll see how that goes, bur right now that's what
we're in the process of examining, how we're going to make that happen.
Q: What are the job prospects for teachers who will be affected by overseas base closures?
Dr. Silvernail: They’re likely to end up in schools either at other overseas locations or here in the
States. You can be sure that's exactly what will happen because there's such a teacher shortage that they will
be in demand here in the States.
You have been a wonderful audience. I don't want to keep you one more minute, but I do thank you so much for
the opportunity. If you need to call me, I can be reached at (703) 602-4949, Ext.117. My email is
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