By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Local children with relatives serving in the Montana Army National Guard will be honored this weekend during a ceremony at Montana State University-Northern.
Close to 20 children, ranging from the very young to college age, will be recognized before the MSU-Northern women's basketball game Friday night. During the ceremony, an announcer will introduce the children to the audience and call them out to center court, said Darcey Buerkle, who helped organize the event.
"What we have planned is to have the players lined up around the gym floor," she said. "As they call the kids' names, they will go out on the floor and get shirts that are presigned by all the players."
Buerkle is a member of a military family readiness group for local National Guard members. Family readiness groups act as a close-knit support system for the dependents of military service members.
Friday's ceremony is intended to recognize the sacrifice required of children who have relatives who serve in the military, Buerkle said.
"We have been working on different activities for kids with parents deployed (overseas) or stationed in Great Falls, just to keep them at ease or keep their minds off the fact that their moms or dads can't always be here," she said. "It's very difficult on the child having a parent gone like that."
Buerkle would know. Her husband, Kevin, was called up in December for overseas deployment. A youth probation officer in civilian life, Kevin will spend the next one to two years with a resupply unit in the Middle East. He left behind Darcey and Teresa, the couple's 10-year-old daughter.
Teresa, a student at Sunnyside Intermediate School, said she thinks it's "pretty cool" that the the children of National Guard members will be given special recognition on Friday.
The youngest Buerkle said she misses her dad a lot and is proud of him "because he's going over there to fight for our country."
The ceremony will honor children with relatives in the 443rd Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants Quartermaster Supply Company. The unit is based in Billings and has detachments in Havre and Chinook.
A number of soldiers from the unit were called up last month for deployment. Those soldiers were selected to fill vacancies in the Kalispell-based 639th Quartermaster Supply Company, which was called up in September. The unit has been sent to Fort Carson, Colo., to prepare for deployment.
Friday's ceremony is not only for the children of those Guard members who have been deployed, but for all children who have relatives serving with the 443rd, Buerkle said.
"It was brought up at one of our family readiness meetings. We took a look at this and thought it was a good idea. We're doing it for everyone," she said. "It doesn't matter if they have moms, dads, aunts, uncles (serving in the Guard)."
MSU-N athletics director Byron Ophus said he expects about 20 children to be honored during the ceremony. He said Buerkle approached him several months ago about holding the ceremony before a college basketball game. Ophus said he is working to find "someone special" to sing the national anthem for the ceremony.