04/10/2012 02:42 pm ET Updated Jun 10, 2012

Military Kids are My Heroes

Is it strange to say that I look up to a nine-year-old?

A nine-year-old who, a couple of weekends ago, explained to me the rigors of war his father faced and what he was doing to make sure his dad was taken care of when he came home? A nine-year-old who corralled his younger siblings when it was time to go on a hike and kept the peace between the two of them; a nine year old helping to hold his family together while he waits for Dad to come home from Afghanistan?

I met Charlie (not his real name) and a host of other kids just like him at the Sierra Club's Celebration of a Military Child Outdoors (COMCO) at Prince William Forest Park just south of Washington DC.

It was April 1, and we were all at the park to help kick off the month of the military child. Nationwide, April is the month of the military child and different organizations are getting together to support our nation's youngest heroes. It's not too late for you to get involved in your community. Reach out to your local National Guard or Reserve Unit, Blue Star Families, the USO, National Military Family Association or Operation Military Kids to find out if you can help.

In my work as the Sierra Club's Mission Outdoors' Military Families and Veterans Representative, I get to meet a lot of pretty heroic people. I'm fond of saying -- as are many of the partner organizations we work with -- that military children are our youngest heroes. For me, these young people, who have not asked to be a member of the military or veteran community, but are literally born into national service, are heroes. It goes without question in my mind.

So when someone asked me over social media if I was 'lessening the word of hero' by describing military kids as heroes, I was shocked, but decided rather than raging on this soul who likely has not had a chance to meet a military kid, I'd check the definition of a hero with what a military kid did, and see if the two equated.

Definitions first:

Hero, from a man admired for brave deeds, noble qualities, etc.

Heroic, lists synonyms: courageous, brave, daring, intrepid, and valiant.

Next, the action of a military child:

  • Understands why one or both of their parents goes off to war, sea duty,or out into the field for weeks at a time.
  • Is prepared to understand why one of their parents may not come home from war.
  • Takes on additional household responsibilities for parenting and household management.
  • Serve as caregivers for Mom or Dad's physical, emotional or mental disability .
  • In an active duty family: Move every 1-3 years, helps the family move, makes new friends and does it again.
  • In a reservist or National Guard family, endures deployments often isolated from other military families in their community

Through it all, military kids face up to the tall tasks asked of them bravely and courageously. They may struggle and they may bend under the stresses of the military family. But overwhelmingly, these young people respond with no less than a truly heroic effort to the challenges they face and serve as a very personal reason why many of our serving men and women at war fight for their country.

So, yeah, military kids are our youngest heroes, and if someone asks you, "are we diluting the word hero, by equating that word with military kids?" you can tell him or her we're strengthening the word hero, not lessening it, when we use it to describe our Nation's military kids.