New Program designed to make deployments easier on families

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Deployments are a challenging time for many military families and the challenges faced are not exclusive to the period the servicemember is physically gone.

The time leading up to the deployment, the deployment itself, and the post-deployment phase are all crucial. Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, has created a program geared to address these challenges entitled "Talk, Listen, Connect: Helping families During Military Deployment."

"When Parents Are Deployed," a Public Broadcasting Station primetime television special, is the latest part of Talk, Listen, Connect program and it premiered on PBS's local station KUAC on Dec. 27, with actor Cuba Gooding Jr. as its host.

The 30-minute show started off by stating that this holiday season, an estimated 700,000 children under age 5 are separated from a military parent who is overseas. It shows interviews of actual military families in different situations and shows how they cope as well as gives first hand accounts of things they do to make things as easy as possible for the family as a whole.

The people interviewed included a military to military couple, a military member married to a civilian, and a single mom whose mother is her child's caregiver while she is deployed.

The children also spoke about their experiences and how the different things their families did made them feel. The show covered many angles and was emotional at times.

"There was a part where an Air Force Master Sgt. was proudly describing how he had left behind a large glass jar filled with little messages from him for his family to read, one a day, while he was gone, said Janet Hemmann, a U.S. Protect security guard whose husband is currently deployed. "His daughter was sitting bravely beside him as he talked until she finally dissolved into tears at the memory. Watching it, you couldn't help but cry too."

Mrs. Hemmann also said that although her and her husband do not currently have children together she is glad she watched the show.

"Watching the show gave me an idea of what to expect for when we do expand our family and gave me some tips on how to make the best of it."

Even making the show was emotionally heart wrenching and the Sesame Workshop personnel were not immune.

One of the show's producers, Joseph Pipher, talks on a video clip available at www.sesameworkshop.org/tlc about a poignant moment that occurred when the single mom who was on a two -week leave from her deployment was being interviewed.

"I saw the young lady on camera start to break down a little bit and she started to weep and then I realized not only was I weeping, but also the soundman, the cameraman, the gaffers, the production assistants, the producers--the whole room was a puddle," said Mr. Pipher. "We had to cut tape and regain our composure and it was moments like that I realized we were on to something serious and important."

Before "When Parents Are Deployed" was created, Sesame Workshop, with funding from Wal-Mart Stores Inc., made video kits with the same title as the overall program. While the TV special is targeted towards parents, the video is targeted towards children, using Elmo and his dad who deploys as a way to give children advice on how to cope with the anxiety felt over missing parents and shows them how Elmo deals with the situation.

Sesame Workshop considered the video kits, which are available free at www.militaryonesource.com and the Airman and Family Readiness Center, such a success that it made the television show addressed primarily to parents.

"I think the show and the video are a good thing," said Staff Sgt. Kenneth Johnson, 354th Communication Squadron network administrator. "It's hard when you leave and this was made to make things easier."

This father and husband also said that although he felt the Hearts Apart program covers a lot of the same information, it doesn't present it the same way the TLC program does.

"It's something I would let others know about if they were deploying," he said. "The program gives another option for support that some people could relate to more."

Check your local PBS listing for show times. Extended interviews and video clips are available at http://www.sesameworkshop.org/tlc.