Gen. George W. Casey Jr., former commander of multinational forces in Iraq, said here yesterday that the Army would work with the University of Pennsylvania to help soldiers better deal with the stress of serving in uniform.
The Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program also will cover soldiers' families, said Casey, the Army's chief of staff. A formal announcement with more details is to be made next week.
Casey was in Philadelphia to speak during the first day of the Military Child Education Coalition's national conference at the Sheraton Philadelphia Center City hotel.
The Army will partner with the University of Pennsylvania's Positive Psychology Center, whose Resiliency Project works to give elementary and middle-school students skills in social problem-solving and interpreting stressful events.
"We have to get it right for families and children. We really believe our soldiers draw their strength from their families, and their families draw their strength from their communities," Casey told the more than 1,000 conference attendees.
The conference's theme is how to support the two million children of U.S. servicemen and women.
"Military children are America's children," said Mary M. Keller, president and CEO of the private, nonprofit coalition. Based in Texas, it includes civilian educators, military personnel who work with children, and parents of military children, about 75 percent of whom are under 12. The conference continues today and tomorrow.
Keller said the idea for the coalition began 12 years ago as a way to help children with a parent on active duty. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the coalition began including children of National Guard members and reservists.
Keller emphasized that not all military children struggle with a parent's service. For those who do, the conference addresses such topics as helping families deal with a loved one's deployment and reintegration.
Army veteran Scott Quilty led a session called "Mom/Dad is Home. Now What?" Quilty, the U.S. program manager of a nonprofit group called Survivor Corps, told participants of his 2006 service in Iraq.
Quilty said he was leading a platoon stationed south of Baghdad, in an area called the Triangle of Death for its constant insurgent attacks. He stepped on a buried bomb, which shattered his right arm, calf, and thigh.
A physician's assistant with the platoon that day saved his life, and doctors eventually amputated his right arm below his elbow and his right leg below the knee. His emotional recovery, he said, has been harder than his physical one.
Quilty didn't have children at the time. But many soldiers who have suffered serious injuries do.
Children in particular have to make a huge adjustment to cope with a wounded parent's condition after returning from war, said Michelle D. Sherman, director of the Family Mental Health program at the Oklahoma City Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Sherman, in a session on teens in families affected by trauma, said military children not only feel the stress of their mobility, but also of deployment of their mother or father to faraway danger zones and of the parent's return.
Keller said she worries that public attention to helping these children could wane as U.S. soldiers leave Iraq. "When there isn't a war, that doesn't mean the stress is gone," she said. "If my dad came back profoundly changed when I was 10, that still remains.