HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- Team Hill hosted its annual Kids Deployment Day April 12, giving about 800 children in the military community a closer look at many of the moving pieces involved in overseas contingency operations.
By design, the scene resembled a deployment processing line: as children from each "chalk" -- a group meeting at a designated time and place -- arrived and stepped off a bus, they formed a line and were issued dog tags before proceeding to a variety of stations.
However, instead of receiving last-minute vaccinations and theater of operation briefings, the kids observed explosive ordnance disposal and military working dog demonstrations, and had the opportunity to try on gas masks, flak vests, and other mobility gear. A variety of weapons, vehicles and aircraft were also on display, giving the children a good look into their parents' deployed working environment.
While a majority of the young participants attend Hill Field Elementary, the event was also open to children of military families who live off-base or are enrolled in another school, such as Jordan and Tristan Schanke. The siblings, students at Quest Academy in West Haven, Utah, could be considered "deployment veterans" ... their father, Master Sgt. Bill Schanke, a quality assurance evaluator from the 75th Logistics Readiness Squadron, will soon be leaving for his seventh deployment in the last decade.
Deployed Airmen face many stressors related to the mission itself, but the toughest part for many is the family separation.
"It's hard," said Jordan, regarding the times her father is away on Air Force business. "He's not there to spend time with us, or play sports with us, or anything else."
Jessica Schanke -- Bill's wife, and mother to Jordan and Tristan -- has learned to fill multiple roles during the deployments.
Bill said the term "opposites attract" was true in their relationship. "And if that's the case, when one of those opposites is gone, it throws the balance off in the family."
"I'm more of the disciplinarian, and keep up on the house and yard work, while Jess manages our finances and things of that nature," he said. "When I'm gone, that entire half of what I do is now falling on her."
"As adults, we can adjust to that," Bill continued. "But kids have a harder time adjusting, and it's tough on them."
After working through such challenges during her husband's deployments, Jessica now extends a helping hand to others as the lead "Key Spouse" for her husband's squadron. Along with three other spouses, she checks in on the families of deployed squadron members, ensures they are aware of base resources, and points them in the right direction when they need help.
Master Sgt. James Mueller, 75th LRS first sergeant, said, "Mrs. Schanke is a vital part of this squadron. She's constantly involved in functions throughout base and has brought a steadiness to the Key Spouses program, to the point that family members trust her with issues that can be very personal for them."
He added, "During deployments, some of the spouses are sometimes hesitant to contact their husband or wife's supervisors, but they are very comfortable contacting Mrs. Schanke."
In her role as a squadron Key Spouse, Jessica was one of the volunteers passing out dog tags during the Kids Deployment Day, and helped children try on mobility gear at the 75th LRS station. But when Bill, Jordan and Tristan arrived for the 5 p.m. "chalk", she stepped back into the role of wife and mother, as the entire family walked from one station to the next.
Bill said, "I love the Kids Deployment Day ... it definitely gives the kids a little better awareness and a little better appreciation for what their dad or their mom does."
"Our kids see me wear my uniform every day," he continues, "or they see me trying on my chemical gear and helmet and flak vest. But when the kids actually get to try the stuff on for themselves, they get a little better appreciation of what you actually do."
"It all looks cool until you put the stuff on," he smiled.
While the Kids Deployment Day is over until next year, Bill is back to working on his pre-deployment checklist. In spite of the challenges his family faces with each deployment, Bill always remains ready to answer the next call of duty.
"Although I am just one small piece in the military machine, I know my daily efforts make a difference in keeping this country free," he said. "I am proud to serve and words can't say how thankful I am that my family has stood by me throughout my career."