Operation Military KidsOperation: Military Kids (OMK) is the U.S. Army's collaborative effort with America's communities to support children, youth, and families impacted by deployment. This initiative was officially launched in April 2005. Since its inception, OMK has touched over 65,000 military youth and provided information to more than 7,200 community members across the United States.

In Kentucky, OMK is coordinated by the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Family and Consumer Science unit in partnership with all branches of the military and other organizations around the state. The goals of the Kentucky OMK grant are to:
  • Raise community awareness of the needs of military youth and families throughout Kentucky.
  • Build local community capacity to provide sustainable support services to military families.
  • Implement educational, recreational, and social outreach programs for military families and those who work with them.
Hero PacksDuring December, there were a number of holiday events held around the state for children and families who currently have a deployed family member.
  • The Army National Guard held a program in Central City for families who have a deployed family member. Over 200 people participated in this program. The OMK Mobile Technology Lab was used to give families an opportunity to connect with family overseas through email or Internet and to print photos, letters, and post cards to send to deployed family members.
  • The Army National Guard also held a program in Shelbyville for families who have a deployed family member. Over 150 people participated in this program. During this program, 50 Hero Packs were distributed to children with a deployed parent. Hero Packs are backpacks filled with items to help connect kids with deployed family members. Presenting Hero Packs to kids is a way to show appreciation and hand-deliver a salute to military youth for their strength and sacrifices while family members are deployed. Hero Packs also offer supportive information and provide items to aid in family connection and fun.
  • Another 150 Hero Packs were presented to children who have a deployed family member at a Fort Knox holiday event in December.  Children from Hardin County schools and Brookville, PA schools wrote appreciation letters to the children that were included in the packs. An exemplary quote came from Mary Siegel, U.S. Army Family Readiness Support Assistant and facilitary of this Fort Knox event: "Thanks again for letting me be a part of this truly magical experience. The children were so excited to receive and proud to wear their Hero Packs. The letters [that went into the Hero Packs] are such a great idea! I screened all that I received - over 250 - and each one was precious. Needless to say, my trash can was full of Kleenex by the time I made it through the stack."
  • A Family Fun Day event was also held at Fort Knox in December with 60 childre attending. Family Fun Days are events where families that are affected by deployment can come together to enjoy support from each other and do fun activities as a family. Craft projects and obstacle course were offered. The children decorated photo frames to use for photos taken with Santa.
  • Over 1,000 hand-written letters and home-made holiday cards were collected from schools across the state through Family Resource and Youth Service Centers and sent to the Kentucky OMK Director. They were delivered to Military Missions, Inc. and put into care packages that were sent to deployed Kentucky soldiers through Operation: S.E.N.D. Christmas.
  • Eight Hero Packs were assembled using hand-sewn back backs from 4-H Youth for a family with eight children whose father is currently deployed in Iraq. Three Hero Packs were also send to another family that currently has a father deployed in Iraq. One of the moms wrote back after receiving the packs and stated, "Thank you SOOOO much for the packs and for all that you did to make my kids happier through this deployment. My daugher was soooooo happy about the little black 4-H pony. Thanks again for everything that you have done for my family."
Kentucky OMK has many great events, training opportunities, and programs already being planned for 2009! Go to the Kentucky OMK home page and click on the calendar icon to see dates and descriptions of events that are being planned. The site is updated on a weekly basis. For more information about Kentucky Operation: Military Kids, contact Kerri Ashurst, Kentucky OMK Director, at 859-257-3032 or kgoodman@email.uky.edu.