11/12/2013 01:59 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Military Family Month and Your Kids

November has long been the month in which we honor our nation's heroes -- veterans. By presidential proclamation, this November is Military Family Month.

Throughout our Nation's history, an unbroken chain of patriots has strengthened us in times of peace and defended us in times of war. Yet the courageous men and women of the United States military do not serve alone. Standing alongside them are husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brothers. During Military Family Month, we celebrate the families who make daily sacrifices to keep our Nation whole, and we remember a most sacred obligation -- to serve them as well as they serve us.

What do your kids know about the military, veterans and veterans' families? Has the extent of their knowledge and concept of military been largely shaped by the glorification of war as depicted in video games, TV, and movies? Have you ever spoken to your kids about the realities of war? What about the debt each of us owes to our veterans and their families? This is a great opportunity to begin having these family conversations.

Originally known as Armistice Day, November 11th was set aside to mark the end of fighting in World War I. In 1938 an act of Congress declared the day an official holiday, to be observed annually, to celebrate world peace and to honor the veterans of the first World War. Following World War II, an act was passed in 1954, replacing the word "Armistice" with "Veterans," and it became a day to honor all veterans of all wars.

The Reality of War
War shouldn't be glamorized. Of course, any conversations with your kids should be age appropriate, but that shouldn't mean sugar-coating. It is not a game. Your kids should know that the effects of war are tangible and forever. Unlike the fictional characters they encounter, our heroes are human - pain, suffering, and sacrifice are real. War is often necessary, but as an ultimate solution, and not to be entered into lightly.

What is a hero? By definition, a hero is "a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities." It's fine for your kids to be sports fans or look up to fictional superheroes, but they should know the distinction of true heroism. Our service members and their families give selflessly and willingly to protect our nation, our families, and our way of life.

Hardships and Sacrifices
There are approximately 22 million veterans in the United States. Our military men and woman risk their lives in their service to our nation. Those that are fortunate to return home face additional challenges. Veterans account for 13 percent of all homeless adults in the U.S. Addiction, depression, and suicide are some of the other serious problems they encounter.

Veterans of the wars following September 11, 2001 face an unemployment rate that is more than three points higher than the overall jobless rate. Recently returned, college-educated, service members earn close to $10,000 per year less than other college-educated peers. We used to be reminded: "Don't forget, hire a vet," but a catchy slogan isn't enough. We need a real commitment to our returning troops.

I recently attended a captivating speech, given by a retired general, in which he pointed out that change has to come from the top down. Corporate leaders need to instruct Human Resource (HR) personnel to make it policy to get out there and hire vets. This should be the Affirmative Action Policy for our time.

Family Projects The best way to teach your children is by example. Get involved as a family.
  • Visit museums, historic sites and monuments. Have your kids research the destination and learn about it in advance. Discuss it during your visit and have your kids do a project when they return home. Perhaps they can even arrange to speak to their class. There are great venues such as The Intrepid Museum in New York City, The Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC, and the Museum of World War II, Boston.
  • Operation Goody Bag is a simple, but memorable way for families and students to reach out to our military members as well as First Responders. Kids color a simple brown paper lunch bag which is then filled with an inspirational poem, a personal letter of thanks, and candies.
  • For families and students above the 10th grade, The Veterans History Project is a great learning experience. The object is to collect first-hand accounts of U.S. Veterans, that you may know, through interviews. The interviews, along with copies of any available letters or diaries are then submitted where they will be preserved and made accessible to future generations.

I am a strong advocate of supporting our heroes. Some of the organizations I work with are V WISE (Women Veterans Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship), EBV (Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities), and Give an Hour, which provides critical mental health services to U.S. Troops and their families.

Don't take our service members, veterans, and their families for granted. Acknowledge the debt we owe them. Teach your children to appreciate and respect them. With due acknowledgment to President Obama, when it comes to taking care of our heroes, we truly are not red or blue states, but Americans.

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