By Brandon Quester
Wyoming National Guard
CHEYENNE, Wyo., (9/21/09) -- With a slight shift in position, 10-year-old Celina Billiot leans over from Kuwait and places her hand into Iraq.
One foot rests within the Persian Gulf, the other stretches through the United Arab Emirates and into Saudi Arabia – nearly reaching Oman.
Anthony, Celina’s 5-year-old brother, also sits close. He is kneeling in the Tuwayq Mountains of central Saudi Arabia – his feet crossing the border into Yemen.
The goal of this excursion is to see the land where their father currently works. And although they are able to span borders and oceans with just one step at a time, they do so with nothing more than a pair of socks on their feet.
This adventure did not take place on foreign soil. The venue was here, on a giant map of Asia spanning nearly half the floor of the Wyoming National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters gymnasium in Cheyenne, Wyo.
Members of the Billiot family visited the headquarters on Sept. 17, during the official unveiling of a giant National Geographic map of Asia.
The map is part of an interactive learning project scheduled to travel the state of Wyoming during the 2009/2010 school year. The project, sponsored by the Wyoming Geographic Alliance and courtesy of the Wyoming National Guard, is designed as an educational experience for Wyoming students in kindergarten through high school.
Children of deployed Soldiers with the Wyoming Army Guard’s 115th Fires Brigade were invited to the map’s initial viewing and had the opportunity to literally sit and stand on the countries where their deployed family members currently serve.
“It’s pretty cool to see where he is,” Celina said. “God knows I love him and miss him.”
Celina said she was able to talk with her dad while standing on the very place where he is now deployed, adding that the experience was “pretty cool.”
Celina’s father, Pfc. Jason Billiot, is currently deployed with the Wyoming Army Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 300th Field Artillery Regiment as part of the 115th Fires Brigade.
Following Thursday’s event, the 41 foot by 31 foot pictorial will be made available to all Wyoming schools for the current school year as an interactive learning experience. Lesson plans will travel with the map and allow students to learn about the Asian continent and a 100-year history of the Wyoming Guard’s involvement throughout the area.
“This is a very important tool that we can use to show (the children) where their loved one is deployed,” said Stacie Alford, family readiness support assistant for the Guard’s 115th Fires Brigade. “I think it’s a great idea.”
And while the map project provides a unique tool to connect children of deployed mothers and fathers, it also provides an adaptable learning experience for Wyoming students in grades K -12.
School districts will schedule a map visit during the School Improvement Conference on Sept. 29, at the Little America Hotel in Cheyenne, Wyo. Once the visit agenda is established, the map will travel to each Wyoming school district or National Guard armory where schools gymnasiums are not available.
Wyoming Guard organizations such as the Yellow Ribbon Program and unit family support groups will coordinate with military families to ensure they are aware of times and places when the map is within their area.