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From National Guard youth to servicemembers

Showing sense of pride toward country and those that serve

Four out of the eight graduating Washington National Guard Youth Council Members have signed the dotted line and will join various military branches in the coming months. Photo credit: Gary Lott

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Usually kids from high schools in Spokane, Snohomish, Bay Center and Tacoma wouldn't become best of friends, but these four are Washington National Guard youth. Like with any other branch of service, they are familiar with their parents constantly traveling, deploying and relocating.

"Now that I have looked at the military more, I've realized that I want to actually serve the country ... I want to be a part of the military forever," said Brendan S., who has committed to the U.S. Army. "When I first started on the council, I was unsure and hesitant about what I wanted to do, but now I'm fully committed."

Brendan credits youth programs and the youth council for helping him decide his plans for the future.

Traveling and relocating aren't things that just servicemembers embark upon: their children are brought into a military world without ever actually signing on a dotted line.

This promotes a resiliency that is learned from birth and a characteristic often nurtured through youth and family programs, such as those on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Camp Murray and across Washington state.

For servicemembers, showing up to a new assignment and finding new battle buddies and friends not only increases morale but also provides an environment to learn from new mentors and leaders, all while moving up among the ranks.

It is no different for the baby, toddler, preteen or teenager who shows up to summer camp, or any other military family or youth program, for the very first time.

"Youth are experiencing military life through their family member being in the service, addressing issues military youth have, experiencing military culture at our events and connecting with servicemembers at our events as well," said Washington National Guard Lead Child and Youth Programs Coordinator Robbin Seeberger. "Having more sense of pride toward country and those that serve comes naturally from military youth, especially if they commit to joining themselves."

That's what makes youth programs so essential to the social skills and further development of relationships for the youngest members of the military family.

Youth programs aren't just fun and games, however. Issues that matter to the thousands of military youth across Washington state, no matter where their school (or parent's armory) is located, are also core values of military youth programs and youth councils.

Youth council meetings provide a venue for these friends to discuss issues National Guard youth face and a platform for how to come up with resolutions. The council also plans events for National Guard youth throughout the state.

"There has been a lot of maturing with my growth in the program through the years and added importance when making the decisions for the whole state," said Landon H., from Spokane, who has committed to the Marines.

This importance and involvement will not fade for Landon and the three other Washington National Guard Youth Programs Youth Council members who have chosen to enlist in different branches of U.S. Armed Forces.

The group would have probably never met if it weren't for the annual Washington National Guard Summer Camp, which takes place in Spokane and western Washington and allows military youth to meet new friends and learn how the military can foster irreplaceable relationships, no matter where one is located."It's nice to have people who have actually served in the military there so that we can get some perspectives and hear different military stories about their past, overseas or even something funny," said Brendan about the servicemembers who help out with camp. "Leadership skills and confidence are passed down constantly."

Running into a buddy on Facebook or on base 20 years later isn't anything out of the norm for military families.

Similar to how military members often live at different corners of the world but somehow end up being the best of friends, these four youth council members hail from different corners of Washington state: Spokane, Bay Center, Tacoma and Snohomish, but they don't allow it to hinder their friendship.

"Without this program, they may have never met or had the opportunity to participate in various experiences, travel around our state or build bonds during high school with friends they can rely on when they need them," said Seeberger.  

This group of military dependents and future military servicemembers has grown and blossomed in the past three years, and now they are inseparable.

The military mentality instilled after joining isn't going to be something new for these four, who actually did sign on the dotted line.

"Even though I enjoy hearing the soldier's stories, I'm very excited to start making my own stories," said Landon.

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