The energetic youngster has a brand new sister and two parents who love him. But things can be difficult.
C.J.’s dad recently returned home after serving overseas in the military. He seems distant, sometimes even doing weird things, like the time he swerved into a nearby lane when the family drove under a bridge.
Experts say such behavior is typical of soldiers returning home from combat, and they want children to better understand this.
That’s where C.J. comes in.
C.J. is the animated star of a DVD designed to help military families address the challenges that emerge once loved ones come home. Tentatively titled “Your Buddy, C.J. 2,” the DVD is a joint project between the Army and Government Printing Office and is scheduled for release later this summer.
“We want people to know about it,” said Carla Cary, who works as a family advocacy program specialist at the Army’s Community and Family Support Center and Family Programs Directorate. “We want people to ask about it. We want to get it out in as many ways as we can.”
The DVD runs about 25 minutes and features several animated animal characters such as C.J. (who is a bear, by the way) who face an eclectic mix of challenges related to military deployment. Some of the animals adjust to seeing their loved one as an amputee, while others struggle in school, for example.
“Those are some of the real-life things that happen after deployment,” Cary said.
C.J. and his friends are the brainchild of Nick Crawford and John Tobiason, two multimedia designers at the GPO, a place more known for producing government workbooks than 3-D animated films.
But the GPO is working to enter the digital age, and this project is an example of that effort.
Sometime after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Army visited with GPO officials and asked the agency to make a workbook designed to help children of military families better understand the issues surrounding troop deployment.
But a workbook seemed too old-school for the two designers who are, like the printing office itself, moving into the digital age.
“John said, ‘Why are you doing a workbook?’” Cary said. “We could do a CD-ROM for you. We can make it more interactive for kids.”
Army officials liked the idea and commissioned the GPO to produce the disc. Released in 2003, it introduced viewers to a younger version of C.J., who is dealing with his father’s recent overseas deployment.
It was an immediate hit for military families, Cary said.
“People can play games, and children can talk about their feelings,” Cary said.
Soon after the CD-ROM was released, the idea for a DVD came about. This time, C.J. and his friends would deal with a range of issues families face when their loved ones return home from combat.
To prepare, the designing duo visited wounded veterans and their families at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. They met with Army officials, gaining insight into the specific difficulties military kids face.