Military families would appreciate 'GI Bill' for kids - Crystal Beale

Before my high school sweetheart, husband, and father of my two children, Sgt. First Class John Beale, deployed to Afghanistan a year ago next month, we talked at great length about our children's future. We wanted to send our kids to private school, but it did not fit into our budget.

Christopher, 13, and Calye, 8, have struggled in our neighborhood public schools, but for different reasons. Christopher had been badgered by other boys and his grades were slipping. Calye wasn't always challenged by her studies.

And when John left for the Middle East, and particularly after that awful day when he was killed by an IED, the kids and I were never the same. It really does take two parents to make sure the homework gets done, the kids stay focused on their studies and children have a mother and a father to talk to about peer pressure and other issues that accompany school life.

That's why, when I heard that Georgia lawmakers wanted to offer military families a voucher or an Early HOPE Scholarship to transfer to another public or private school, I knew John would have been delighted. Actually, I started to cry. I wondered if I spoke out in favor of such a wonderful idea for families such as ours, it could actually be a legacy for heroes such as John.

Military families are a special breed. We forfeit much whether our loved one is with us or not. As is so common with many of the 110,000 active-duty military personnel now stationed at Georgia's 14 bases, military families often see the world. This means getting transferred to places one would never dream of living.

When John and I first got married, he joined the U.S. Army and served as a helicopter crew chief in Desert Storm, venturing into Iraq to fight Saddam Hussein's army. We were later stationed in Germany.

After John left the Army to settle down and raise a family, he used the GI bill to attend Clayton State University. He wanted to earn a history degree, so he could, one day, become a public school teacher and give back to the community. That was John - always thinking of others. When Sept. 11 happened, I had to almost restrain him from enlisting in the National Guard because we had two young children.

In 2004, John's patriotism and desire to make our nation safe wouldn't stop. He enlisted in the Army National Guard.

Two nights before he was killed, we talked by telephone. I knew as a cavalry scout he was to embark on a mission to pick up U.S. mail for the military personnel who had not been receiving it along the Pakistan border. John was aware that our children needed him at home, but we were so proud of his patriotism and his duty to country.

Our son, Christopher, in particular, like many boys in military families, needed a male role model at home and truly missed his dad when he left for the Middle East. He had more emotional problems, which resulted in poor grades in school. All this happened just weeks before John's death.

That is why I truly believe, if Christopher can transfer to a private school with smaller classes, he may get some of the attention he needs in this crucial time in his life. Other children in military families also need this individual attention when a parent is away - something that is tough to get in a large, public school. Calye, meanwhile, might be able to use an Early HOPE Scholarship voucher to transfer to a school that challenges her more and allows her to pray without being taunted by other students.

I am so honored to live in a state that would even consider thanking the children of our soldiers with their own GI bill, an Early HOPE Scholarship, so they can attend the school of their choice. I pray when lawmakers do consider voting for this measure, they do so in John Beale's honor.

Crystal Beale is the widow of Sgt. First Class John Beale of Henry County who lost his life fighting with the 108th Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition Squad of the Army National Guard in Kapisa, Afghanistan on June 4,2009.