A few dozen fresh-faced recruits - very fresh-faced - were deployed Sunday at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base as part of Operation Junior Heroes.
The program, a "mock deployment" for children of military servicemen and -women, tries to re-create scenarios similar to those experienced by troops during deployment, said Teresa Noon, director of the Arizona branch of Operation Military Kids, a support program for children and youths impacted by the deployment of their parents.
"It opens up communication between the parent and the child about how deployment affects the child and family," said Kim Sloan, president of the Ladies Auxiliary for Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10188. "It's a way the child can visualize where Mom or Dad are when deployed. It alleviates the stress and uncertainty of deployment."
Operation Junior Heroes is a collaboration of all branches of the military as well as the Ladies Auxiliary, the Red Cross and Operation Military Kids.
During the two-hour deployment, about 50 youths ages 5 to 17 had the opportunity to tour a military transport airplane, test out a cot in the sleeping quarters, try on flak jackets and helmets while aboard a Humvee, dine on MREs (meals ready to eat) in the mess hall, learn basic first aid in the Red Cross medical tent, and get a weapons-safety demonstration using M-16 training rifles.
At HQ, where the young recruits checked in for duty, they were issued T-shirts, dog tags and backpacks full of goodies.
Master Sgt. Christine Garland-Birch and her husband, Tim Birch, brought their son, Scott, 10, to the mock deployment. Scott thought it would be a fun way to see what his mom does when she's deployed, though he knows she doesn't goof around on the job.
"She's not happy unless she's working," Scott said.
Near the end of the tour, Scott said he was impressed by the mechanics of tent living, in particular the way cool air is pumped into the tents through tubing connected to an air conditioning unit. He also thought the MREs were pretty good, but not as good as his dad's cooking.
Gaby Miranda brought her children, Minah, 8; Marisol, 6; and Ben, 5 to Operation Junior Heroes. Her husband, Senior Master Sgt. Ben Miranda, currently is deployed.
Minah, who wore a camo print skirt and tights, recited her father's deployment schedule from memory and eagerly discussed his plans for a military career.
"He takes care of people. He goes around the world helping people," she said.
Most military men and women would agree that eating MREs for months on end isn't especially palatable, but Minah disagreed. "I like them. They are so yummy!" She tried the macaroni and cheese and corn bread, unheated, straight out of the package. Her sister, Marisol, wasn't as impressed.
But when it came time for the firearms demonstration, Marisol was gung-ho. She spent more time than her little brother taking target practice with the laser gun. Afterward, she amended her Christmas wish list. In addition to a baby doll and a stroller, she now wants Santa to bring her an automatic rifle.
Tech. Sgt. Roxy Johnson brought her son, Nathan Pocock, 7, to Operation Junior Heroes. Her husband, Tech. Sgt. Paul Pocock, is deployed to Kuwait until next spring.
Nathan's favorite part of the afternoon was hopping in the cockpit and getting to "drive" the transport plane.
Said his mother: "He asked me, 'Where's my daddy today?' I told him, and he said, 'OK, that's where I'm flying.' "
Contact reporter Kimberly Matas at email@example.com or at 573-4191.