By Tech. Sgt. Michael Voss , 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published December 23, 2009
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (AFNS) -- Each year thousands of military children are affected by either a mother or father deploying, and when this happened to the Choate family here, it sparked an idea helps prepare military children deal with deployments.
In October, Maj. Eric Choate, an Air Operations Squadron Det. 1 delivery control officer, deployed leaving behind his wife, Dorothy, and their 7-year-old son, Philip. During the course of the six months away, Mrs. Choate, the 86th Services Squadron Family Member Programs chief, noticed that Philip was having a difficult time coping with the absence of his father.
One day after having dinner with world famous children's author and motivational speaker Trevor Romain, Mrs. Choate had the idea to develop a new deployment program and kit, based upon the family's recent experiences.
"I had the tools and the thought process to create the kits, but I needed a character ... something to really sell it to children," Mrs. Choate said.
Mr. Romain felt that a character he previously created but never fully developed -- "Cuzzie the Bear" -- might be perfect for a military family-focused campaign.
Cuzzie is an inventive bear that creates flying machines with the aid of his ground crew. With Cuzzie as the foundation for the deployment kits, Mrs. Choate started looking at sources of funding for the project, as well as what kinds of items inside the kits would be beneficial to children coping with missing a loved one.
"We should be very proud these kits are entirely funded through our 2009 Combined Federal Campaign contributions," Mrs. Choate said, referring to the donations made to the Family Support and Youth Programs. Just this summer, more than $30,000 was presented to Ramstein Air Base Family Support and Youth Programs due to donations directly from the community.
Each special Cuzzie Cares box contains journals, stationary, photo albums, countdown calendars, post cards, play cards, dog tags and of course, "Cuzzie."
"Dorothy had a vision to help kids from her own son's hard time during her husband's deployment," said Shannon George, mother of 5-year-old Cole and wife to Master Sgt. Bobby George.
The nine-year wedded couple explained that Cole also had a hard time, missing his dad during a recent 434-day deployment to Afghanistan.
"We were really lucky," Sergeant George said. "Where I was deployed I was able to see Cole and Shannon pretty regularly on the Internet."
"But it was still hard, there were nights where Cole really missed his daddy," Mrs. George said.
On Dec. 17, 500 Cuzzie Cares deployment kits and nearly 100 students gathered inside the Ramstein Elementary School gymnasium, and on hand for the bears and kits to be given out was Mr. Romain.
"I am here to help you deal with deployments," said the children's book author.
Mr. Romain told the group how he had been in the Army years ago. During a deployment he met a young boy in a field hospital. He said the boy came up to him and simply asked to be held, and when he held him, the boy began to cry.
"Each tear that touched my chest, changed my life," Mr. Romain said.
From that point on, he knew he wanted to write children's books.
"You didn't choose to be military kids; it just happened that you are," he said. "I am very proud to stand in front you; true heroes."
The children in attendance were on the edge of their seats as Mr. Romain explained how the Cuzzie Cares kits came to be. As he opened one of the boxes, he asked them how they dealt with deployments -- from weekly calls, to writing letters and drawing. With each answer, Mr. Romain showed them one more item in the box and how they could use each to help.
"When my mommy was gone, my daddy took care of me and we wrote letters," one little girl said. "Then when daddy was gone we did the same for mommy."
Six-year-old Emily Liter, daughter of Staff Sgt. Thomas Liter, explained with a tear forming in her eye, "My mommy isn't going to be here for Christmas."
Finally, the time came for the final item in the box to be revealed. In unison, the children yelled "Cuzzie." As each of the children grabbed their Cuzzie Cares deployment kit and returned to their normal classes, Mrs. Choate said she felt a since of accomplishment.
"Emily was very excited to tell me all about it when she got home," Sergeant Liter explained. "I am sure Emily will use the kit. She carried Cuzzie around all day and even tucked him in his box for bed."
"These are the first children in the world to ever receive the Cuzzie Cares kit," Mrs. Choate said. "I hope they are one day in the hands of every military child that is experiencing the deployment of a loved one."