Day care, wellness programs and counseling services are available free of charge to deployed military service members, thanks to a national partnership between the U.S. Department of Defense and YMCA.

The partnership, which started Oct. 1, permits free YMCA memberships to families of deployed National Guardsmen and military members.

“We know these programs are key to personal health and well-being, help build strong families, and reduce stress and feelings of isolation,” said David Chu, undersecretary for the Defense Department’s personnel and readiness office, in a written statement.
The free memberships are offered to families of deployed service members for six months, as well as for three months before and after the deployment.

Families of service members interviewed by The Examiner have said the stress of separation can be hard, especially for children.
The two daughters of Lt. Col. Samuel Riley, a Maryland Guardsmen from Towson, had trouble dealing with their father’s yearlong deployment in Iraq this past year.

The Y of Central Maryland has been providing services for National Guardsmen, helping more than 500 families since the start of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, said Sara Milstein, chief marketing office for the Y.

But with this new partnership, the Y can promote its services to more families of service members who may benefit from its programs.
“We’re not only going to participate, but also actively outreach to military families ... with full privileges to our health and wellness centers, child care camps and other very comprehensive programs,” Milstein said.

“For us, this is a very natural extension.”

The Defense-YMCA partnership also allows anyone stationed at selected bases to get free memberships. One of those bases is Andrews Air Force Base in central Prince George’s County.

Maryland also is one of only 10 states where children of deployed service members can receive 32 hours a month of free day care through the YMCA.

“This new initiative will go a long way to help America’s military families live healthy lives,” said retired Navy Rear Adm. Frank Gallo, the YMCA’s armed services director.