April marks the Month of the Military Child, a time to honor and celebrate the military community’s youngest members that emulate resilience every day–children. It’s also a time that Kelsey Smith, American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) Senior Regional Specialist, is no stranger to.
Kelsey is the daughter of military parents and spent her childhood at Illinois National Guard Midway Armory. While most kids played with toy helicopters and miniature airplanes for fun, Kelsey had the real deal. She grew up around life-size helicopters and spent time staring at the sky in awe as planes landed.
Influenced by this unique environment and her family’s military background, Kelsey knew that she wanted to pursue a career of service. But instead of enlisting in the military after college, she jokes that she became the black sheep of her family when she chose to join the Peace Corps in Africa as a Community Based Natural Resource Management Volunteer.
After completing her service with the Peace Corps and earning her master’s degree in International Public Service, she stayed close to home and joined the Red Cross of Illinois as a SAF Senior Regional Specialist. There, she provided critical support to military personnel and their families, including active duty, National Guard and Reserve, as well as veterans. Kelsey was recently deployed to military installations around the world, including Djibouti and Romania, where she is one of five Red Cross SAF members.
Kelsey did not move around frequently and switch schools growing up, circumstances she says are typical of the “military brat” upbringing. But looking back, she recognizes that her childhood was far from normal–a realization that far too many children from military backgrounds can relate to.
Kelsey notes that military children are often born into a lifestyle that could have a significant impact on their mental health and psychological development. Trouble adapting to frequent moves, coping with parent/family separations, and feelings of loneliness are common.
Through her SAF role at the Red Cross, Kelsey joined support networks committed to uplifting children that grew up with a similar lifestyle – like Kids Rank, a nonprofit based in Illinois dedicated to the social and emotional growth of children from military families. Through skill-building activities and volunteer opportunities at Kids Rank, Kelsey saw firsthand an inclusive and welcoming environment where kids could cope, learn, and grow.
As a SAF Senior Regional Specialist, Kelsey offers a comprehensive range of services to military communities and individuals of all ages, 24/7/365. She provides financial assistance, manages in-kind donations, and facilitates emergency communications between active duty members and their families. She even processes referrals for mental health services and assists with claims for veterans’ benefits.
Kelsey’s advice for current and former military kids? Own your identity.
Being a military kid is a truly remarkable yet intense experience. Fortunately, there are a variety of resources and support networks the Red Cross offers to empower even the youngest members of the military community, Kelsey says, who are a lot more resilient and stronger than they may think.
For more information on accessing Red Cross resources for service members, veterans and their families, click here.