Rallying around the littlest troops

Marjorie Coeyman has brought us many tales from the front lines of education - visiting schools from New York to Puerto Rico in her five years with the Learning section.

But she'd never been dispatched to a military base before. Two weeks ago, she toured some of the schools at Fort Benning, an Army base in Georgia. What better time, we thought, to see how schools administered by the Department of Defense compare with their civilian-run counterparts (see story).

"I don't think I grasped how much they were a world unto themselves," Marjorie said of the base after her two-day visit. To drive from one part to another for an interview, it took her 20 minutes on a route past a 10-plex cinema and a shopping mall.

Being close to the troops was nothing new for photographer Melanie Stetson Freeman, but she was struck by the support surrounding the children on base.

As waves of Fort Benning soldiers ship off to the Middle East, those left behind do everything they can to help children cope. During school hours, counselors build in time for students to talk about absent parents and to write or record messages to send abroad.

It seems fair to say, in this case, that it takes a base to raise a child. Men and women in fatigues come by the base schools frequently to tutor and to answer questions about countries where parents are stationed.

The world's brewing conflicts seemed much closer when Marjorie and Melanie watched sad but proud children pin yellow ribbons on parents whose spouses were deployed.

"Everyone kept saying how strong these kids are," Melanie told me when she returned. "I hope they're right."

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