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By Chris Gleason, Hannah McCulloh and Laura Sternweis

To the nearly 11,000 Iowa children with a parent serving in the military, deployment is not a game. But the teen members of Iowa’s Speak Out for Military Kids (SOMK) team thought a board game was just the thing to create awareness about the deployment cycle. And they named it “Deployment: It’s not a game”.

The game is capturing the attention of agencies and organizations both in Iowa and across the nation. SOMK team members are taking the game to the Program Showcase at the Children, Youth and Families At Risk conference in Baltimore in May. U.S. Army Child and Youth Services is interested in making the game available for their youth programs.

Six of the SOMK team members who created the board game were military kids who had experienced deployment. Two of those 6 military kids had fathers deployed when the team created the game. The game highlights the rollercoaster of emotions and family life for military kids as game players roll the dice and move from mobilization to homecoming. “Good” cards and “bad” cards are based on actual events in the lives of the military kids who are part of the SOMK team.

Spaces like “Web cam became unavailable, move back two;” “family spent a day together, move ahead three;” and “friends are not supportive, move back two” are all found on the board. Story teller Maureen Korte and artist Ray “Bubba” Sorenson helped the SOMK team members weave their experiences into the game board.?? “Many of us drew on our own experiences from when our parents were gone. From taking on extra responsibility at home to hating watching the news or simple things like doing horrible or well in a class affected us a lot. We wanted people to understand how simple things were big in everyday life,” Amanda Johanns, SOMK team member said.

SOMK team members have used the game at workshops for youth and adults. “Participants found this game to be a lot of fun,” SOMK team member Sarah Langer said. “While the game was being played, questions arose asking if these things actually happen and how we, military kids, felt when the ‘bad things’ would happen.”

“I think the game is at least a good way to get conversations started. The cards start a train of thought,” Johanns said.

Research demonstrates that resilient kids have a network of support. “Deployment: It’s not a game” is now used in public and school settings with military and non-military kids and adults. As players move through the game, it serves as a tool to get them to think and talk about the impact of deployment on military kids and families. Players are encouraged to reflect on the issues military kids face during deployment, to discuss how they might act in similar situations, and to discuss how their school, community, or organization might develop a plan to support military kids and families experiencing deployment.

Military kids who play the game can talk about other challenges and issues they have personally faced during deployment. They can create their own “good” and “bad” cards to use in the game. Teachers and counselors can use the game to help military kids strengthen their problem solving skills and communication skills.

The game began as four pieces of poster board laminated and taped together. The latest version is a 12 page booklet with the game board in the center. The event cards are printed in the book and can be cut out along with the game markers. Blank cards are available for kids to create their own “good” and “bad” event cards. Initial production of “Deployment: It’s not a game” was funded by a generous donation from the American Legion Riders Post #731 of Des Moines.

The Speak Out for Military Kids team is comprised of military and non-military teens who develop and practice communication, leadership, and citizenship skills. SOMK team members educate schools and community organizations about the issues facing military kids and their families.

SOMK is a program component of Operation Military Kids, a partnership between the U.S. Army Child and Youth Services and Iowa State University Extension/4-H Youth Development. Other national partners include the American Legion, Boys and Girls Club of America, Military Child Education Coalition, and the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies.

For more information go to: “Deployment: It’s not a game
Chris Gleason, Operation: Military Kids project director,, Hannah McCulloh, Extension Communications and External Relations,, Laura Sternweis, Extension Communications and External Relations,

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