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Military families get help coping with deployment

Sarah Hardison, left, and Stacy Wendt work on cutting clips from an interview filmed earlier during the Operation Military Kids camp at North Dakota State University Wednesday morning. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

Stacy Wendt never knew opening a pickle jar and getting her oil changed could be so complicated.

Life for the Brookings, S.D., native changed when her father was deployed with the Army to Operation Desert Storm while she was a teenager.

While he was gone for more than 465 days, Wendt took over her father's chores on the farm, paying bills and repairing vehicles.

Now Wendt, a North Dakota State University junior, helps other children of military families by working with a program called Operation Military Kids.

The program, which seeks to support youth of military families, is new to North Dakota this year.

Diane Hahn, a coordinator with the project, told a group of youth last week about the challenges kids face when their mom or dad is deployed.

"Even though it's the family member, they are serving because they are making sacrifices, too," Hahn said.

A group of teenagers from military and nonmilitary families developed a video last week they hope will raise awareness about what obstacles are ahead for families when a member is deployed.

Hahn said people are surprised by the number of children in North Dakota who have parents who are members of the National Guard, Army Reserve and Air Guard.

In Cass County, 256 children have parents in one of those branches of the military, according to figures from the National Guard.

Hahn called those families "suddenly military" because many didn't plan on being deployed when they signed up for the Guard or Reserves.

Sarah Hardison, 17, a resident of the Minot Air Force Base, said one of the hardest things about her father's deployment to Afghanistan was that his orders got mixed up, so he left on short notice and on Thanksgiving.

"It was a shock to us," said Hardison, who participated in the Military Youth Institute during the NDSU Extension Youth Conference.

It was harder to function as a family and in school while her dad was deployed, Hardison said.

"Even our dog got depressed when he was gone," Hardison said.

Operation: Military Kids has several events and youth camps this summer around North Dakota.

Wendt said the activities give youths a chance to connect with others who are going through the same experiences.

It also helps them raise awareness with people who are not connected with the military.