When Sania Oddister's dad was deployed to South Korea a few weeks ago, it was a lot to handle.
"The first week was hard," said her mom, Monica Oddister. "She was asking questions all the time."
Monica said it was difficult for Sania, 3, to understand why her father was so far away. Sania didn't completely understand what he was going through. So, Monica decided to send her daughter and her brother, Jayden Thomas through their own "deployment."
About 275 military-dependent children were at Shaw Air Force Base on Wednesday for the fifth-annual "Operation Take-Off."
The event, put on by the base's Airman and Family Readiness Center, was designed to show kids what it is like when their parents go through a deployment by simulating a deployment on base. Master Sgt. Brian Melton organized this year's event and said he hopes it will cut down on some of the stress the kids feel when they find out mommy or daddy will be heading somewhere far away.
"There's a lot of fear of the unknown," he said. "This gives the kids the chance to see it's not so bad when mom or dad go over there."
Melton said that at any given time between 500 and 1,000 airmen and soldiers might be deployed from the base. He said that his office deals with most of the family issues that deployed personnel may go through.
Deployment, he said, can be hard for spouses and other family, but it's especially difficult for kids. He said by simulating deployment, it can help ease the transition for children.
"We're trying to make it fun," he said. "We try to give it a carnival-like atmosphere."
"The children's deployment started much like their parent's might. They swung open the doors and went in large processing center filled with combat gear and paperwork to go through. First, they tried on their gear - helmets, jackets and masks. Once they were done, they were hurried through a hallway where they picked up a bag of supplies, their rations - Lunchables - and picked up all the necessary medical, legal and financial paperwork.
They all were debriefed before loading onto a military bus bound for the "deployment location." Melton said the kids especially enjoy the bus ride.
Once they were "deployed," they got to eat their ration in a impromptu mess hall before watching demonstrations from various base departments. The base's police force performed a demonstration with their military dog, and the kids climbed in military vehicles and saw some of the weapons their parents might use.
Maj. Mark Denton brought his two children, Zachary and Marley, and said it was a really great way to show his kids what he goes through when he is deployed.
"It should help ease any stress they might have," he said. "It's kind of like taking your kid to work."
Denton said he had been talking to Zachary about the "deployment" for a couple of days. Zachary was excited to go and knew what he wanted to do from the get go.
"He wanted to play dress-up and see all the equipment we use," Denton said.
Once the kids finished their tour, they loaded back onto the buses and were sent back home. There, they were met by some of the 70 volunteer airmen staffing the event, who cheered their return and handed them certificates.
Sania was a little shy about her deployment. She nodded her head when asked if it helped her understand what her dad goes through. But, she said, she had fun.
"I liked the trucks," she said.
Reach R. Darren Price at (803) 774-1225.