‘Nick News’ program focuses on vets’ kids

By Lynn Elber

‘No one was honoring the bravery and sacrifice of [troops’] kids,’ Linda Ellerbee said.

“When my stepdad went to Iraq, half my heart went with him,” says a youngster featured in Nickelodeon’s special about the burdens that war and its aftermath places on children.

“Coming Home: When Parents Return From the Front,” the latest in the line of consistently worthy “Nick News With Linda Ellerbee” programs, premieres 9 p.m. Sunday. It focuses on kids from around the country facing the expectations and the reality of getting their parents back.

“People can and do disagree about the war. No one disagrees about supporting the American troops. But it occurred to us that no one was honoring the bravery and sacrifice of their kids,” Ellerbee said in an interview.

According to “Coming Home,” 43 percent of all deployed troops are parents. By the end of July, 20,000 troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan will have come back to America.

Soldiers have ideas about what their kids will be like; kids have notions about their returning soldier-parents, Ellerbee said, adding, “But they’re all probably going to be wrong.”

Some veterans will be changed emotionally, physically or both: One of five returning soldiers suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, according to “Coming Home,” with some so affected that they initially are unable to connect with their families.

The children of a man who lost his leg fighting in Iraq say he issues commands to them as if they were serving under him. The daughter of a female soldier — one of 300,000 women serving in the U.S. military — copes with her parent’s post-traumatic stress.

“My mom being in Iraq changed her,” the girl says in the program. “She just seems different. ... I wish she was just mommy again.”

Other boys or girls, who never get the chance to rediscover their parents, display extraordinary wisdom and strength.

“This experience makes me value life even more because it’s something that can be easily taken away,” says the daughter of a soldier who was killed in Iraq in 2004.

The show avoids any “scary war images,” Ellerbee said. She suggests that parents watch it with their children and use it as a starting point for discussion.

“You may shed a tear and you will also feel very good and very proud,” she said, calling the program a meaningful way to end the July Fourth holiday weekend.

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