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Military families spend a night at the museum

LEHI, Utah ? Master Sgt. Jeff Gustafson, 191st Air Refueling Squadron, and his wife Kristine pose with their family at the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point.  Sergeant Gustafson visited the museum as part of a free opportunity offered through Operation Military Kids this summer.  In Utah, OMK offers children and youth of all the military branches many opportunities for support and recreation.

LEHI, Utah Master Sgt. Jeff Gustafson, 191st Air Refueling Squadron, and his wife Kristine pose with their family at the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point. Sergeant Gustafson's family visited the museum as part of a free opportunity offered through Operation Military Kids this summer. In Utah, OMK offers children and youth of all the military branches many opportunities for support and recreation.

Military children Kaetlin Moffat, age 7, and Preston Russell, age 6,  jump with excitement in front of the a prehistoric shark exhibit, Megalodon, at the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point.  The children visited the museum as part of a free opportunity offered by Operation Military Kids this summer.

Military children Kaetlin Moffat, age 7, and Preston Russell, age 6, jump with excitement in front of the a prehistoric shark exhibit, Megalodon, at the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point. The children visited the museum as part of a free opportunity offered by Operation Military Kids this summer. In Utah, OMK offers children and youth of all the military branches many opportunities for support and recreation.

LEHI, Utah -- Utah Air National Guard families recently took advantage of an exciting opportunity to visit the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, Utah.

The visit was offered through Operation Military Kids, an organization that was created by the U.S. Army to work with local communities to help support children and youth who are impacted by military member deployments. In Utah, OMK offers children and youth of all the military branches many opportunities for support and recreation.

"We were so glad to bring the military families here to the museum," said Connie Packer, OMK program coordinator. "There are a lot of people who have never been to the museum before and they were glad to be able to come."

During their visit, parents and children explored the largest collection of dinosaur skeletons found in the world. Awe and fascination reflected on many faces as they examined the exhibits.

"It was sick and cool at the same time," said 10-year-old Braeden Moffat as he walked around the prehistoric relics. "I liked seeing the fossilized food in the dinosaur's stomach."

Families strolled under the huge bones of dinosaurs like Supersarus and past the giant jaws of the largest shark in history, Megalodon.

"I liked Megalodon," said seven-year-old Kaetlin Moffat. "There are rows of teeth so, I'm glad I can't swim into his mouth."

The attraction of the giants was only part of the experience though. The Museum of Ancient History also offers 50 interactive, hands-on displays giving visitors of all ages a chance to connect with the past.

One of the hands-on displays, the Erosion Table, kept adults and kids entertained as they buried and uncovered small dinosaurs in a long winding trough filled with sand and water. Visitors learned first-hand how many of the fossils were created and found.

"This was fun," said two-year-old Elizabeth Rew as she played in the sand and water of the table.

Jeff Bond, assistant to the paleontologists at the museum, shared his expertise with those curious to learn a little bit more about real fossil finds.

"I like telling people things that are not written on the signs," said Bond. "I've been working here for eight years and I'm still learning things."

Bond enthusiastically told stories about the local favorite, the Mammoth, and how Thomas Jefferson was one of the first paleontologists, and even described the Utah Raptor's connection to Jurassic Park, the movie.

Later Bond also brought out a cart containing such ancient treasures as a brain from a Tyrannosaurus rex, also know as T-Rex, a Raptor claw and bone core samples.

Seeing the T-Rex brain firsthand dispelled the idea its brain was only the size of a walnut.

"The area in the T-Rex brain responsible for smell is the size of a lemon," said Bond as he pointed out the area on the brain stem. "They were the best, their sense of smell was better than a vulture or shark. This area in our brains is the size of a pea."

The night at the museum continued beyond the normal museum hours giving the military families the chance use their advanced brains and try their hands at some special after-hours crafts and activities. 

One of the kids' favorite activities was using power tools to relieve fossils. The process was noisy and dusty and required safety glasses.

Eleven-year-old Joshua Eason outlined his fossil making sure to guide the power tool very carefully. "I made sure you can see the fish all around," he explained.

"I've done this once before," said nine-year-old Britney Loveland. "I've always thought it was fun."

Fun for military families was what the whole event was about.

"We wanted to give the military families a chance to enjoy their time together," said Packer. "Operation Military Kids knows how hard deployments and military life can be on a family and this is one way we can help strengthen our military families."

The museum will hold another military family night on September 25. Members interested in making reservations should contact Connie Packer at (801) 768-7428 or at connie.packer@usu.edu.