Articles for Parents

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    9 Ways to Support Military Families

    Kelli Day met Shawn Campbell her junior year of college at Texas A&M in College Station. 

    “He was already on the military track and dreamed of becoming a pilot. We were working together at a coffee shop when he asked me to go mountain biking and the rest is history,” said Kelli Campbell. “We got engaged a month before he left for officer candidate school and got married a week after he came home after completing school, and had four children Tristan, Kenna, Kate and Donovan, who are now 15, 12, 10 and 5.”

    Shawn became a Marine and flew the CH-53, the Marine Corps’ largest helicopter, known as the Super Stallion. Maj. Campbell was deployed three times in the Middle East during his 15-year military career.  

    In 2016, Campbell went on a routine night-training mission at his home base in Hawaii. Just before midnight, his helicopter collided with another and 12 Marines were killed, including Campbell. 

    “Years ago we decided that if something happened to Shawn, I would take the kids and move to Kansas City where my family lived,” Kelli says. “We went there not knowing if we would stay. Shawn and I had dreams for our kids, plans for things we would do together as a family.”

    While in Kansas, Kelli was introduced to Folds of Honor, an Oklahoma-based charity that provides educational scholarships to the children and spouses of fallen and disabled service members. Founded by Maj. Dan Rooney, a former Air Force F-16 fighter pilot with three combat tours in Iraq, and current Air Force Reserve pilot, the organization has awarded more than 16,000 scholarships in all 50 states, as well as Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

    “Folds of Honor gave us a way to start over and honor Shawn’s legacy by giving the kids the things we wanted for them,” Kelli shares. “Scholarships from Folds of Honor allowed our three oldest children to attend a school together where they were provided with the educational, extracurricular and personal support they needed. They gave our children a lifeline because they understood their needs at a very difficult time.” 

    While Memorial Day is typically seen as the kickoff to summer, it is also a day to pause and remember that the reason we get to celebrate is because of the brave men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice.

    “I don’t think Shawn would want us sitting around having a pity party on Memorial Day, but he would want us to stop what we are doing and say the names of people we know who served and gave their life for our freedom,” Kelli says. “We used to make a point of taking the kids to the closest national cemetery to look at headstones and remember friends we had known and lost. We both felt it was important for our children to understand the significance of this day.”

    Kelli describes her husband as “not your typical hardheaded Marine,” but soft-spoken, kind, gentle and fun. She intends to keep her husband’s memory alive for her children by reminding them how he lived and served our country. She also wants to help other families who are on a similar journey. She is currently a regional development officer for Folds of Honor and also serves on their national speakers bureau and Kansas Chapter board.  

    As Americans, our job is not only to keep the memories of these men and women alive, but to come alongside their families and walk with them. Here are just a few of many ways we can support military families:

    • Give respite to the single parent by taking the children for a few hours.
    • Say thank you. These families make a significant sacrifice on behalf of our country. Acknowledging this is huge.
    • Include the sons or daughters of deployed or fallen parents in your parent/child activities. 
    • Organize meals just like you would for a new baby. Set aside one night a week to deliver food to the family.
    • Have your whole block tie yellow ribbons around trees to help everyone remember their deployed or fallen neighbor.
    • Check on the family regularly. The spouse who is left behind needs to know that another grown-up is around even if they don't need anything.
    • Invite the family along on outings with your family even if it's just for a quick ice cream.
    • Think about chores the fallen parent would have normally done. Help with the garbage cans each week or offer to change the oil in the car. Help with the window air conditioners or just getting the Christmas tree into the house.
    • Write letters or send cards to let them know you are thinking about them. 

    We need to intentionally and proactively serve military families. They have made and continue to make it possible for us to reap the benefits of their willingness to serve. 

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on May 26, 2019.

    Maj. Shawn Campbell

    Kelli Campbell and her children

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    Dinner with the Smileys

    In November 2011, Sarah Smiley’s husband, Dustin, was preparing to leave his family for a 13-month military deployment. Before he left, his three sons, Ford (10), Owen (8) and Lindell (4) said that they would be sad to see their dad’s empty chair at the dinner table. As he was making preparations to leave, Dustin encouraged his wife to invite folks over for dinner periodically.

    Having made it through two of her husband’s deployments in 2001 and 2003, Smiley knew that dinner time could be a lonely time for the family. She realized that her husband was probably right about inviting people over for dinner. Yet, she found herself questioning how she would add one more thing to her already full plate.

    The idea of making sure the house was spotless and that the boys behaved well - then cooking something great for dinner - seemed overwhelming.

    After months of persistence from her husband, Sarah decided to float the idea past her boys about inviting people to fill her husband’s seat at the table. During one of their Skype sessions, Dustin asked the boys who they would invite to dinner if their mom did weekly dinners.

    “My teacher!” said Lindell.

    “Maybe the Mayor,” said Owen.

    Ford said he had thought about asking Senator Susan Collins since he was studying government in class.

    Ford extended an invitation to Senator Collins to join his family for dinner, and to their surprise, she accepted. This turned out to be the launch of Dinner with the Smileys, a year of weekly dinners with interesting people that ultimately led Sarah, who is a syndicated columnist and author, to write the book, Dinner with the Smileys: One Military Family, One Year of Heroes, and Lessons for a Lifetime.

    The book chronicles their experience as Sarah holds nothing back and doesn’t attempt to sugarcoat the year without her husband. You will be laughing and crying as she describes the very real and sometimes messy moments deployment brings.

    For example, shortly after Ford extended the invitation to the senator, he decided that was a big mistake. When people started asking questions, it began to feel formal and full of expectations instead of fun. Sarah was not going to renege on the invitation; however she did decide the dinners would be on the boy’s terms. This meant casual, no expectations, no pressure and no dress-up.

    Although there were moments Sarah questioned what she had done, she was ultimately thankful she put forth the effort during her husband’s deployment.  She endured arguments with her tween son, a basement incident involving raw sewage, along with tears from missing her husband. She also had the joy of watching her boys do things they probably would not have done under different circumstances. Plus, the boys will never forget the friendships and memories made.

    The Smileys learned lessons through this experience that are too numerous to mention. They're too rich not to share, though – thus the book is a must-read.

    Here’s to all the moms out there who make it work no matter the circumstances.