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Extension Bands Together to Connect with Military Families
Kentucky Ag Connection - 04/30/2013

When the Kentucky National Guard unit based out of Monticello learned they were going to be deployed, personnel with the Wayne County office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service stepped up to help ease the deployment for the soldiers and their families.

The Battery C, 1st Battalion, 623d Field Artillery is based at the Kentucky National Guard Armory in Monticello but includes soldiers who are from south of a line from Lexington to Elizabethtown. Previously deployed in 1992 and 2005, the unit left in January for a yearlong training mission in Jordan.

Jody Paver, the county's families and consumer sciences extension agent, established a relationship with the unit about three years ago when she attended an Operation Military Kids training. Over the years, members of the unit have participated in numerous extension sponsored events including camps, Extension Master Gardeners and 4-H.

"We heard rumblings about a year out that they might get deployed," said Toni Humble, Wayne County 4-H youth development agent. "As their deployment became certain, my group of 4-H ambassadors decided that they wanted to help ease the deployment transition for the children of military personnel."

The ambassadors are a teen leadership group in the county. They assembled Hero Packs for the soldiers' children to help with the transition. Hero Packs are backpacks that include items to remind the children of their loved one during the deployment.

The ambassadors set up drop boxes where community members could donate items for the packs. In the packs were notes the ambassadors handwrote for each child thanking them for their sacrifice. Also included were small pillows with a picture of the child's loved one made by the Wayne County Quilt Guild and Extension Homemakers. The guild and Homemakers also recorded the soldiers reading a bedtime story. That DVD and the book were included in the Hero Packs. Also included were books created by Wayne County 4-H Ambassador Allison Cooper called "While You Were Away." The books give military children an opportunity to record important details of their lives in the next year to share with their loved ones when they return.

"I, along with other fellow ambassadors, hope this book has a positive impact on the children of our deploying service members," Cooper said. "A short while after the deployment date, I heard that some children were already writing in their books each day. It's given me a chance to see, first hand, how you can positively improve and work to benefit your community."

The ambassadors presented the Hero Packs to the children on the day of the unit's deployment during an extension-organized breakfast for the military families.

"I think they didn't know the impact they were making, but it was evident that they made a difference," Humble said.

In addition to the Hero Packs, Wayne County farmers and, agriculture and natural resources extension agent Glen Roberts, participated in a fundraiser for the unit's non-commissioned officer fund, which helps families facing a financial hardship during the deployment. Since the unit deployed, these funds have replaced heating units in the homes of two families.

Staff Sgt. Joshua Meadors said the extension families' generosity and kindness absolutely eased the transition for the unit's military families.

"I'm very proud and happy to have the Wayne County extension office as a partner in supporting the soldiers and families of our unit," he said. "Each person working there brings credit to themselves, this community and the United States of America."

While the soldiers are deployed, extension personnel are hosting a monthly support group for the spouses of soldiers and have allowed military families access to computers at the office so they can use Skype to communicate with their family members online. They are also asking extension clients and the community to adopt a soldier to send a care package to during the deployment.

Meadors, who was not deployed with the unit, and his wife continue to be heavily involved with extension.

"Aside from trying to give back to an organization that has given so much to our unit, I really enjoy assisting with the 4-H program," he said. "My wife is the FCS Extension Council president, and she enjoys pretty much all that it encompasses, especially the gardening and canning classes. In addition to enjoying the classes, my wife enjoys helping other people. She also assists the extension office in ways to support soldier families."

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