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Treating Family War Wounds

"Her teacher sat me down and she said that my daughter knew only two letters of the alphabet," Ti Godfrey said. "I said: 'That's not possible. She knows all her letters. Something's not right here.' I had to find out why she was having this learning block. I thought the best thing for me to do was to be one-on-one with her."

Godfrey and other National Guard families heard about Our Military Kids when Davidson attended their monthly meeting in February in Winchester.

The nonprofit Our Military Kids helps support such families as Ti Godfrey and her children Erica, 7, and Cuu, 12, in their Prince William home. (Photos Jahi Chikwendi -- The Washington Post)

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"I think it will be a great help," Ti Godfrey said, "because financially, it is going to help me unstress a lot."

She said her daughter's dance lessons and her son's violin class have helped them cope with their father's absence. "It is a great mental distraction. It is helping them to learn and to grow and to continue to develop in a positive way and, that [is] just an endless amount of relief for you when that happens."

Davidson and Kruzel selected the Winchester-based National Guard unit for the pilot program because they believed that National Guard families had less available to them than the families of active-duty soldiers who either lived on or near bases with well-established family resources.

"When you are in the reserve or National Guard," Davidson said, "you are not living on a base. You live in our neighborhood, in our county. We see you at our grocery stores and at our soccer fields miles away from a military base."

Davidson said that if the pilot program with the Winchester unit is successful and if the group can continue to raise money, the program can be expanded to the rest of Virginia, then to the rest of the country.

"We estimate that the number of children who would be eligible for our program is about 86,000" nationwide, Davidson said. "In the state of Virginia, we estimate that there are close to 3,000 children."

The war is never far from home for the children of deployed soldiers. It is as close as television footage, newspaper stories, or a phone call or e-mail from their father or mother in the field.

For the most part, children have a good idea of where their parents are serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, so when there is a helicopter crash or an attack on troops, the anxiety level goes up at home, experts said.

Recognizing the sacrifices children are making by giving up a parent to go to war was one of the motivating factors for Davidson in starting Our Military Kids. "We not only want to help them financially, but we want to salute what they are doing," she said.

Sarah Springer's husband, Ron, is deployed with the Winchester guardsmen. He is on leave from his job with DuPont in Front Royal.

DuPont has continued to pay him his full salary during his deployment, said his wife, who is grateful for that. But while the family has not suffered financially, his absence has had an impact on their two boys and two girls.

"It was pretty hard on them," Springer said of her children who range in age from 8 to 14. "The two boys, I think they are having a pretty difficult time, even now. They're having little school problems, you know, that kind of thing -- a little acting out, more acting out, a little more talking back."

She called Our Military Kids "a godsend." She said that her boys, Akeam, 13 and Khalise, 10, have been bugging her about playing football but that she never has let them. But now, she plans to apply for a grant from Our Military Kids to send them to football camp this summer -- which she would not have been able to afford -- to keep them occupied and to expose them to male authority figures. If all goes well at camp, she might even let them go out for the school team in the fall.

Ti Godfrey is hoping a grant to get Erica into dance school is approved. "She just loves to dance," she said.

Her plan to quit her job and get her kids back on track worked. She got Cuu to improve his grades by telling him that his getting to do extra activities, such as playing the violin, would depend on good test scores.

Persuading Erica to start relearning her letters was accomplished when she severed the connection Erica had made between learning and dying. Reading was something Daddy wanted her to do so she would be able to read the letters.

And now she can read "Dear Miss Erica" herself.

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