Cuba Gooding Jr. with Sesame Street's Elmo
Cuba Gooding Jr. serves his country with distinction tonight when he introduces the heartfelt PBS special When Parents Are Deployed (check local listings to confirm time). Aimed at the 700,000 children of military families under the age of 5 who are separated from a parent this holiday season, the show, from the producers at Sesame Workshop, probes the strains imposed on households by deployment. The Oscar-winning actor — and Elmo fan — describes the special as "a tool for healing."

TV Guide: Why this project?
Cuba Gooding Jr.:
Anything that I can do to help the proper development of children in the proper environment, I try to participate in.

TV Guide: Do you have any family members or friends who have been deployed?
Gooding Jr.:
No family members, but a lot of friends. [In the] military movies that I've done, from Men of Honor to Outbreak to A Few Good Men, I've made relationships with [military] people, some of whom are now deployed. Some have families who have dealt with loss. I'm really close to it.

TV Guide: The show opens with you near the stoop of one of the most recognizable brownstones anywhere: 123 Sesame Street. What was that like?
Gooding Jr.:
Magical. When we shot the special, they said they wanted to get some photographs with me and Elmo. When they brought him out, it was a little overwhelming. They have this ritual where they pull Elmo out and pose him a certain way. When that happens, you sense a certain energy around him, a presence. I have three kids now, two boys 10 and 12, and a little girl who turned 1 in October, and she's just discovering Elmo for the first time. It's awesome.

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