Military Children Find Friendship, Sense of Belonging during USO Fort Belvoir Nerf Day

Loading foam darts one by one into your neon orange blaster, you cannot help but to wear a massive grin across your face. The sun is beaming down on a perfect sunny day, and there is no place you’d rather be. Your heart starts to pound as the countdown for the next battle begins. In a huddle with the other kids, you begin planning an all-out attack on the enemy team.

“3..2..1 GO!” Shouts a Volunteer

It is April 13, 2024 and your parents brought you to a place called the USO to play Nerf with the other military children on base at your new home, Fort Belvoir, Va.

Week’s earlier you were walking into school on your first day, you found yourself in a class full of new faces in yet another new place. Having just moved for the third time in your life, it’s time to be the new kid on the block…once again.

After leaving everything behind at your old base, you are back to square one. With no friends and an entire change of scenery, it is easy to feel lost. It’s just part of the tough job neither you or anyone else signed up for, being a military child.

Your life as a military child is not an easy one. A lack of stability and a constantly looming worry of when your parents will be home and if they are safe always lingers in your mind.

Behind the nation’s defenders are military children. They are an often-forgotten group that pays a great sacrifice every single day. Despite not wearing a uniform themselves, they are heroes in their own right.

“I hope everybody realizes that it’s not just the active duty that goes through it.” said Major Brennan Houbrick, an Air Force Officer and military parent. “These kiddos are right there with us, and they’re strong and they’re dedicated.”

April is designated as the Month of the Military Child. During the month, military members, the public, and many organizations dedicate time and resources to military children to show them appreciation, acknowledge their sacrifice, and remind them that they are not forgotten.

Andrew, “Dart Sweep”, a volunteer and founding member of the Maryland Nerf Alliance delivers instructions through a megaphone at the USO Nerf Day on Fort Belvoir Va. April 13, 2024. During the USO Nerf Day, participants played 3 different game modes of Nerf. | Photo credit LCpl Eric Dmochowski

The month of April gives organizations like the Fort Belvoir USO an opportunity to step away from their daily routine and give that extra bit of attention to a deserving group of local military children.

“We do a lot of unit support with the service members and training.” said Kyle Barr, the director of the USO Warrior Center on Fort Belvoir. “It’s nice to pivot and focus more on the children and the families here during the Month of the Military Child.”

Events like the USO Nerf Day help give back to the military child. Family centered events like this provide children an opportunity to get outside and bond with likeminded children who share their same struggles. At no cost to the families, the Nerf Day provides safe family fun with the added convenience of being near base housing.

“It’s perfect for us. We don’t have to go searching for things to do,” said Houbrick “We are fortunate to have events like this.”

In the modern day of technology, the majority of children’s entertainment comes from electronic devices. Whether they are playing video games or scrolling through social media, playing outside often seems like a lost cause.

One of the primary goals for the Maryland Foam Alliance is to get kids outside and having fun away from their electronic devices. Running around with Nerf Blasters can turn into hours of endless fun for kids and adults alike.

“All we were trying to do in the beginning when we started in the backyard was to get our kids to go outside and play instead of sitting inside in front of the TV.” said Jesse Saunders, a military parent, and founder of the Maryland Foam Alliance.

Jesse Saunders, a volunteer with the Maryland Foam Alliance, poses for a photo with his son during the USO Nerf Day on Fort Belvoir, Va. April 13, 2024. This is Saunders’ first year bringing his son to the USO Nerf Day. | Photo credit LCpl Eric Dmochowski

As a military parent himself, Saunders brought his son along for this year’s USO Nerf Day. Although Jesse might be an even bigger Nerf enthusiast than his son, it gives him an opportunity to bond with his son and to simply get outside.

Something as simple as the Nerf Day can be enough to mentally transport a military child away from the pressures and stresses of their everyday life. In the moments of pure joy that kids experience out playing Nerf, the only thing on their minds is their blaster, their target and the newly found friends fighting alongside them.

Aiming down the sights of your blaster, you squeeze the trigger and propel a foam dart through the air, striking your opponent square in the face. You shout in excitement as they raise their hands and walk off the field, signifying their defeat.

Military children play a game of Nerf during the USO Nerf Day on Fort Belvoir, Va. April 13, 2024. The Fort Belvoir USO coordinated the event with help from the Southern Maryland House of Nerf. | Photo credit LCpl Eric Dmochowski

Shooting darts and running around the grassy fields of Fort Belvoir, everything starts to feel okay again. There is nothing to worry about. Whether you are the new kid on base or soon to depart, all is well. You are out making new friends with other kids just like you. In those moments, nothing matters but the next game of Nerf.

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