Military children: strong, resilient, adaptable individuals

School tour

Melissa Cerna, center right, military child and Air Force Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps member, speaks with Joint Base Andrews first sergeants at Dr. Henry A. Wise High School in Upper Marlboro, Md., Dec. 5, 2017. The first sergeants learned about the various programs the school offers students, including business and finance, health and bioscience, information technology and arts integration. (U.S. Air Force photo by Christopher Hurd)

Melissa and dad

Melissa Cerna, then three years old, and now retired Air Force Master Sgt. Jose Cerna, her father, sit on a couch in Abilene, Texas, March 23, 2003. Jose served 25 years in the Air Force as an electrical power production craftsman, and Melissa, now 17, has spent four years in the Air Force Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps in hopes of following her father’s example. (Courtesy photo)

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. (AFNS) -- April is designated as the Month of the Military Child and is a time to honor the sacrifices of the more than 1.7 million children of military members serving in the U.S. and overseas.

“Military children go through different challenges than civilian children,” said retired Air Force Master Sgt. Jose Cerna, a parent of two military children. “With today’s operations tempo of the military and all the deployments military members have to go through, the children have to stay behind and have to be strong without their parent[s].”

Jose’s oldest child, Melissa Cerna, 17, is a student at Joint Base Andrews feeder school Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. She said she remembers the obstacles she faced during her father’s time in the military.

“It was a challenge for me being a military child because I had to stay emotionally tough,” Melissa said. “When I was in third grade I experienced my dad being deployed for six months. This was a time of great sadness because I missed his presence. While my dad was deployed it made me realize how important his physical and emotional contributions were to the family.”

Melissa said her experience of repeated deployments of a parent and multiple moves in a school year have taught her resiliency.

“Through these challenges, it made me stronger as a person and more adaptable,” she said. “While my dad was deployed, I had to step up to the plate and be strong for my younger brother and help my mom out more. I would be extra positive for my brother by letting him know that dad will be back home soon, and I would help make dinners with my mom.”

Children like Melissa may be the youth of the military community, but many sons and daughters are big supporters of their military families.

“Melissa has always been interested in my career in the military,” Jose said. “Every day she and her brother would meet me at the door and ask me about my day. It was very special to know that my children cared about my job.”

Jose served 25 years in the Air Force as an electrical power production craftsman. His career took his children to Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, Incirlik Air Base in Turkey and JB Andrews.

“When I was younger, I would put his uniform on,” Melissa said. “Growing up, I always thought I wanted to be just like him.”

She said her father is a big role model in her life and a big influence. She even joined her school’s Air Force Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps and said she wants to follow in her father’s footsteps and fight for freedom just like he did.

“I feel very proud that she wants to follow my footsteps in the Air Force, but even more proud that she wants to be a commissioned officer,” Jose said. “Whether she is enlisted or an officer, I will be very proud of her because I know she is a resilient military child who will work hard for her goals.”