A child at play is not the typical image one has of the grueling U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, where Marines are made.
But when a new child-development center was unveiled last week aboard the iconic boot camp, it helped show the broader scope of military service.
The new center demonstrates a commitment by the public and the Marine Corps that equals the commitment demanded of recruits.
It is an $8.4 million investment. The new energy-efficient building dwarfs the old child development center, accommodating 250 children in 16 classrooms and totaling 27,775 square feet.
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It provides full-day, part-day and hourly child care for Marines, sailors and Defense Department civilian employees who work at Beaufort's three military bases. It is open every day from 4 a.m. to 6 p.m.
More than one speaker at the opening ceremony pointed to its value to the Corps. Brig. Gen. Lori Reynolds, the commanding general at Parris Island, said: "We recruit Marines, but we retain families, and facilities like this allow our Marines and sailors the peace of mind of knowing their families are taken care of so they can go out and do what they have to do to complete the mission."
It is a positive reflection on the work of the Family Care Branch and Marine Corps Community Services, which delivers goods and services at more than 2,250 facilities and has a staff of more than 12,000 employees worldwide.
As America continues through an extended period of war, we'd like the new child-development center to stand for something in the civilian community as well. We'd like it to be a reminder -- particularly in this military community -- of the importance of embracing the families of active-duty service men and women.
In Columbia on Wednesday and Thursday, a nonprofit organization called the Military Children Education Coalition brought together community and state leaders to think about ways to help military children.
"More than 2 million children nationwide have parents or siblings who have served at least once in harm's way," says the organization based in Harker Heights, Texas (www.MilitaryChild.org).
"For these military-connected children, their 'new normal' includes deployment and separation from their loved ones. For some, it includes the death, injury or illness of those loved ones. Often, the challenges faced by these children go unrecognized and unsupported within their own communities."
A founder of another international nonprofit organization created "by military families, for military families" called Blue Star Families (www.BlueStarFam.org) knows Parris Island well; her husband was stationed here.
Kathy Roth-Douquet helped form Blue Star Families and its mission "to support, connect and empower military families." Since 2008, it has acted as a bridge between military families and those willing to support them in a variety of ways, from the halls of Congress to the grocery aisle.
On Parris Island, the new child-development center reminds us of those sacrificing for our nation whether they want to or not, whether they know it or not.
As a community, every club, school, church and business should ask what more it can do to support military families.