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FRANKLIN, Ind. (AP) — Sitting in a makeshift science lab, the children of military service members were able to take their minds off their parents’ deployment, if only for a moment.

They experienced biotechnology firsthand by making soy ink to create cards for service members. Using cornstarch, soybean oil and a microwave, they made plastic out of soy.

At the Johnson County fairgrounds in Franklin, they became engineers as they worked to design their own robots, which then followed a program they created.

The daylong camp was provided exclusively for military youth through a nationwide effort called Operation: Military Kids to support children and youth impacted by deployment. The goal is to connect military children and youth with local organizations that teach life skills such as communication, coping and social skills, the Daily Journal reported (http://bit.ly/154Wt38 ).

That means providing such things as a Hero Pack of toys and games and a mobile technology lab to connect with their parents. Working locally with the Johnson County 4-H program, organizers intend to support military youth as thanks for their parents’ sacrifice.

“Military kids live in every county, but since we don’t have an active U.S. Army base here in Indiana, they rarely interact with other military kids. We give them an opportunity to come together from throughout the state where they learn those life skills and meet other military kids,” said Ryan Wynkoop, director of Operation: Military Kids for Indiana.

The program was founded in 2005 using a grant from the Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Indiana was one of the first 20 states to sign up.

Partnering with the statewide 4-H program headquartered at Purdue University, organizers have contact with every Indiana county.

Locally, Johnson County 4-H clubs have helped make greeting cards for military members through the program and filled Hero Packs with photo albums, stuffed animals and books to be distributed to military kids, said Ashley Schultz, 4-H youth development educator for Johnson County.

“This is a chance to reach out to them specifically, to make them feel unique doing a special activity just for them,” she said.

The program had a mobile technology lab, equipped with iPads and GPS units, to teach kids about technology. They get to play with computers that many have never seen before and use that equipment to communicate with their deployed loved ones.

They can record messages to send to a parent or sibling, as well as create unique cards to send overseas.

Healthy living curriculums teach children about exercise, fitness and proper diet. Tutors help them with their homework. In the past, they’ve done geocaching workshops on Purdue’s campus.

The organization tries to be active monthly in the counties throughout Indiana, appearing at military family support meetings, yellow ribbon events and deployment events.

The science camp was the first large event hosted in Johnson County through Operation: Military Kids. Close to 30 children experienced science hands-on in a series of experiments and activities.

They made “soybeans-in-a-bag,” planting a seed and wearing the bud in a protected satchels around their neck. They made ink out of soy to show how useful products can be made from unusual raw materials, said Erica Bonnett, 4-H educator for Bartholomew County, who partnered with Schultz to plan the camp.

The highlight of the day was using Lego building blocks to create working robots.

“They had those robots doing all kinds of things and were so disappointed when it was over,” Schultz said. “Robots are so big right now, and the kids love Legos. We knew it would be a good way to spend a few hours.”

The activities are designed so that kids learn how to cope with their family situation and thrive until their parent returns from service.

“Military deployment can be very stressful, so we want to give them the opportunity to express themselves in a healthy way,” Wynkoop said. “It allows them to cope with the deployment of a loved one or family member.”

Operation: Military Kids is a U.S. Army program but also partners in programs with the children of men and women in the Indiana National Guard. They hold an annual summer camp, providing activities and supplies for the weeklong event.

Operation: Military Kids also has organized a program “Military Kids In-School Support” at Greenwood Middle School. They get a chance to interact with kids in a smaller group level, discussing their feelings about their parents’ military service in a caring environment, Wynkoop said.

“They might be the only one in their school experiencing that, or there might be another military kid in their school but they didn’t know it. Providing activities at the local level gives them the opportunity to connect,” he said. “When they see that, they get to connect and make new friendships.”

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