For kids like 11-year-old Kate Reid, a fifth-grader at Mountain View Elementary School in Yelm, moving across the country is no big thing. She and her family have been at Joint Base Lewis-McChord for about a year and plan to move back to their former area in Utah within months of when her dad, currently deployed in the Middle East, returns home.
Kate said although she plans to become a zoologist or marine biologist when she grows up, she’d really like to know more of what her dad does as a service member while he’s deployed. She and family members do get to talk with him almost every day through online and phone services.
“He’s not one who talks much,” Kate said.
Learning more about deployment is why Kate and her younger siblings joined with about 135 other 5- to- 12-year-old children of JBLM Soldiers and Airmen attending the Kids Understanding Deployment Operations event at McChord Field Saturday.
The Operation KUDO event allowed the kids to attend a briefing on McChord Field, process out and receive equipment and gear, including a green T-shirt with the word “recruit” on the back, a helmet and water bottle, as well as deployment paperwork with orders. They had the opportunity to get their faces painted in various shades of green and black, before leaving moms and other family members and loading up in military buses to begin their two-hour deployment.
KUDO is an annual event hosted by the JBLM’s Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation and is an opportunity to help children and family members better understand deployment, so it’s not such a daunting struggle when mom or dad is gone so long.
“I can barely see you; can you see me?” 7-year-old, Gavin Hegenbart asked his 5-year-old brother, Chance, after the siblings got their faces painted in camouflage for the event.
Dad, Brian, and mom, Maj. Jessica Hegenbart of Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, I Corps watched as the youths prepared to deploy with the other kids.
“I want to be in the military,” Gavin said, adding he attended the deployment event because he wants to “make sure it’s safe for my mom.”
“I’m a Soldier in the Army,” Chance chanted and sang as he marched along with his brother to join the other children.
At the event, the children were divided into chalks — groups of up to 35 kids — and were transported to a special deployment location inside a hangar on McChord Field. There they experienced several chances to get on and learn about military and emergency service vehicles, operate robots used for operations, meet and learn about a military K-9 and even board a C-17 aircraft.
Boarding the aircraft was a favorite part of the event for 8-year-old Tristhan Kaoska, who wants to join the Air Force and fly planes when he grows up, he said. Six-year-old Andrew Kazmarek and his 4-year-old brother, Christopher, also enjoyed the plane and climbing aboard a Stryker vehicle.
“It was a lot of fun,” Andrew said.
For many of the children, the most exciting part of the event came when they returned “home” to Building 576, where their buses were met by parents and family members holding welcome banners they’d created at the site during the “deployment.”
Gloria Hultquist, wife of Maj. Mike Hultquist, 2nd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, held a big welcome home sign as the couple’s twin 6-year-old sons, Victor and Conar, got off the bus. The boys smiled and rushed to their mom.
“It’s good to have something like this to keep the boys busy while their dad is deployed, besides school, sports and church,” she said.
Military spouse Emily Reid received a big hug and kiss from her 5-year-old son, Miles, as he and his sisters, Kate and Lucy, 9, returned to the home site.
“I’m glad I went; I learned a lot,” Kate said. “It was really fun, but I think my dad goes through a lot more. It’s 106 degrees today where he is.”