New programs for military address rehabilitation, affordable education

University Park, Pa. -- For six years, Joshua Watson served as an Army military police officer in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now a Penn State student, he still can’t help scanning rooftops and people wherever he goes. “I’m always on guard,” said the Montoursville resident.

Between combat deployments, Watson, 27, organized recreation activities, such as trips to the beach, for soldiers. He enjoyed the work and decided to major in recreation, park and tourism management at Penn State, where he also participates in inclusive recreation programming on campus to help readjust to civilian life. While inclusive recreation refers to modifying physical activities for wounded soldiers (and others), it also will address psychological and cognitive conditions resulting from war, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injury.

During Penn State’s Inclusive Recreation for Wounded Warriors program in January, Watson talked to participants about how inclusive recreation has helped him. Funded by the Department of Defense through 2011, the program aims to provide knowledge and resources for military recreation managers to integrate active-duty wounded soldiers into existing recreation programs on military installations, said Ruth Ann Jackson, executive director of Penn State Hospitality Leadership Institute and program co-principal investigator.

The Penn State program was created by certified therapeutic recreation specialists in Penn State’s Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management in the College of Health and Human Development (HHD) in collaboration with HHD’s School of Hospitality Management and Outreach’s Management Development Programs and Services.

From Wounded Soldiers to Military Kids
In another program, Penn State is helping to reach out to the children of deployed military service members.

Susan Smith’s husband was deployed to Iraq a year ago. “My kids felt isolated, alone and different from other kids,” she said. Enter Operation: Military Kids (OMK), a U.S. Army effort with communities nationwide to support children impacted by deployment, through partnerships with national and local organizations.

When Smith’s children attended an OMK event in Pennsylvania, they were very excited. “My son said, ‘Mom, there are kids here that are just like me!’” recalls Smith, who coordinates OMK in Pennsylvania through Penn State Cooperative Extension’s 4-H organization.

Activities include providing for youth Hero Packs to recognize the sacrifices that kids are making. The age-appropriate packs contain everything from crayons to digital cameras. Speak Out for Military Kids is for ninth-12th graders (both military and nonmilitary) interested in raising public awareness about the challenges that children face when their parents are deployed. Ready, Set, Go! Trainings are for educators and community group representatives to help them better understand the issues of military families. In addition, OMK sends out to communities Mobile Technology Labs, equipped with laptops, for children to use to send e-mails to their parents.

And in honor of the Month of the Military Child (April), an event celebrating Middle East culture will take place in May at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh. Youth camps are planned for the summer.

Affordable Education
Another new initiative reflects a trend in higher education nationwide. Beginning last fall, all members of the U.S. Armed Forces serving on active duty and studying at the undergraduate level became eligible for the Penn State World Campus Military Grant-in-Aid, in an effort to make the University’s online education offerings more affordable for these military professionals.

Since 9/11, an increasing number of higher education institutions have been offering reduced tuition rates to service members. According to Ginny Newman, assistant director of military education at Penn State, “In the fall semester, the grant assisted 78 service members around the world in pursuing a Penn State education.”

This story is from the spring issue of Penn State Outreach magazine. To view other stories, go to http://www.outreach.psu.edu/news/magazine/currentissue/ online.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010