NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The pandemic has taught us a lot and one of the bigger things that it's shown us is the importance of good after-hour child care for frontline workers.
Whether it's a double-shift for a nurse during a COVID surge, or a place to drop off the kids when a military unit is activated, these child care services are crucial for many.
This is something that leaders of the Arkansas National Guard had already figured out a few years before the virus arrived.
Like any industry, it became clear that providing daycare can be helpful in retaining good employees, but of course, the military isn't like other industries.
That's where heroes like Nora Morgan and members of the Child & Youth Program come in. The only thing they ask? Just don't call the program "daycare."
"It's a military training," Morgan said. "I do not do daycare. I actually got a cringe on the back of my neck when you said that."
Just a few minutes into a session with Morgan on a drill weekend at Camp Robinson and you can tell she is not in the business of changing diapers, wiping runny noses, or running out playground balls.
Morgan's class, which consists a dozen kids, ranges from kindergarten to middle school aged children.
"A family is an effective team, whether it's your personal family or your military family, things are always changing," she said. "So your ability to adjust fire is going to be paramount."
That sense of family and teamwork is something that was seen as the group launched into a game where the kids had to safely convey a marble across the room to a target using chutes. There were some rules though-- they can't talk, they can't hold the marble, and if it falls then they all have to start again.
It may seem like a game, but it's 'play with a purpose,' according to Morgan.
"It's a resiliency training," she said. "The whole program itself is structured to put all the kids into a controlled, stressful state, because we all know that the only way to build resilience is to overcome challenges."
After several attempts, the kids managed to figure it out and are poised to land the marble in the cup. Before finishing the job, the coordinators giggle and grab it away.
It's all a part of a bigger lesson: creating kids that are able to cope with on-the-fly adjustments military life brings.
"These kids sometimes don't realize the challenge until it knocks them right between the eyes," said Morgan. "That's where we come into play. We hope that we get them before they get that contact between the eyes."
It may seem a little eager to some people, but Morgan said she has seen it pay off.
It's something that her own kids even went through, as they were part of a similar program when she deployed as an air traffic controller while serving with the Arizona National Guard.
Along the way Morgan also went through a divorce, but she said she was surprised with how well her children coped and utilized the lessons that they learned during their time in the program.
This is what would lead her to seek and eventually lead the program when she landed in Arkansas.
Morgan is confident that these kids, which she sees one weekend a month, can be ambassadors to their civilian friends.
"The whole goal is that they leave here feeling like they want to give back to other military kids, but more importantly that they that they shine that resiliency to everybody else," Morgan said.