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College of Human Ecology

K-State professors creating documentary about national guard families

Thursday, September 20, 2007

MANHATTAN -- Sometimes watching the video footage brings tears to Chuck Smith's eyes.

Smith, a Kansas State University professor and Extension specialist in family studies and human services, has been working on "On Our Behalf," a documentary about National Guard families, which he began in August with Ron Frank, professor and TV unit coordinator for K-State's department of communications.

"We want to let the families tell their stories in their own words -- the stories of the courage and sacrifices they've made and why they do it," Smith said. "With the National Guard, these really are citizen soldiers -- they're not career soldiers. They don't do it for the money, but for the love of family, their country. We're trying to reveal that. We also wanted this to be a catalyst for community discussion -- a catalyst for discussion about the isolation and other emotions they may feel while serving."

Although the documentary is in its early stages, Smith describes the footage he and Frank have captured so far as powerful, including that of families being reunited after an overseas assignment and interviews with children about having a parent deployed.

Footage that stands out to Smith includes the fat tears rolling down the cheeks of a young girl as she clings to her father's neck, seemingly unwilling to let him go upon his return from serving overseas in the National Guard; and the guardsman holding his infant daughter for the first time, laughing as his buddies chide him about how she "looks like you."

Smith and Frank also have footage of a group of girls answering questions about whether their fellow classmates know that their fathers are serving in Iraq and if the classmates can understand how they feel.

"They wouldn't want to," one girl answers. "They don't want to feel what we feel."

Smith, who also is the Kansas human development specialist with K-State Research and Extension, said he knew before beginning the documentary that he wanted to work with Frank on something that related to courage and fear. These emotional concepts are familiar to Smith, who, in 2004, wrote the book "Raising Courageous Kids."

"On Our Behalf" is being filmed on a limited budget, mostly funded by Frank and Smith. They are looking for someone like Tom Hanks or James Earl Jones to do the narration for the final version of the documentary.

"We need to get champions involved with this," Smith said.

"Whenever you do a project like this, you want to make it as big as you can," said Frank, who served 27 years in the National Guard and Army Reserve. "You know what your objectives are and don't let reality constrain you. We have a compelling story and we want to secure the best way to get that information. out there. We would like to get someone that is well known that people can relate to."

In filming the documentary, Smith said he has learned some interesting things about children whose parents serve overseas.

He said that it is tough on children in the 12- to 14-year-old age group to have to go through their early adolescence with an absent parent.

"I've also noticed that many of the children, in all age groups, tend to hide how they really feel," he said. "They have to assume a level of responsibility that other kids their age don't have to."

Smith said it is important for family members to stay in contact as much as possible when one member is deployed. Something a parent who deploys can do before leaving is to make a message box, Smith said. The parent can fill it with brief messages for a specific child or spouse, who can then pull one message out per week. He also suggests that some messages involve a special treat.

If possible, make arrangements with a neighboring family to be alert and responsive to the family that has a deployed member. Unlike other branches of the armed services whose service members tend to live on or close to military installations, members of the National Guard and their families live all over the country. Smith said that means it may be harder for the family members of those who serve in the National Guard to have people nearby that they can relate to.

Both Frank and Smith have said they hope "On Our Behalf," communicates to the public how they can help National Guard and reserve families face and overcome the emotional trials of deployment.

"As I write this, I still have tears in my eyes," Smith wrote on the blog for the documentary at http://www.onourbehalf.org

"I have been watching some of the videos we took last weekend of children and their families greeting their soldier parents and sons who have returned from Iraq.," Smith wrote. "There was one greeting, one spontaneous moment of homecoming between a father and his daughter that made me suddenly burst out crying. The sheer joy and display of love we saw was and still is breathtaking."

Sources: Chuck Smith, 532-1946, casmith@k-stateu.edu;
and Ron Frank, 785-532-7692, rfrank@k-state.edu
News release prepared by: Jessica Grant, 785-532-6415, jgrant@k-state.edu

This article was posted on Thursday, September 20, 2007, and is filed under College News, Family Studies & Human Services.