MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho --
From writing flight cheers to conquering fears, 46 teenagers of military members came together Aug. 9 through 15 for Operation Purple Camp, which helps children learn coping methods to overcome the stresses deployments can put on families.
According to the camp sponsor, the National Military Family Association, more than 155,000 children have at least one parent deployed in support of the War on Terrorism.
To help prepare children for this separation, NMFA created OPC in 2004. The free, one-week camp takes place at 62 locations in 37 states and territories with Mountain Home Air Force Base Youth Programs' camp held in Donnelly, Idaho, for the last five years.
When the boys and girls arrive at camp, they are split into four flights led by two counselors, one of which is an active duty military member. The first day is spent on base where they participate in a scavenger hunt and learn flag etiquette from the base honor guard team.
After breakfast at the dining facility the next morning, campers head up to rock climb in an indoor facility before arriving at camp. Monday night, the children participate in a "Wall of Honor" activity, where they place a picture or name of a deployed member and get the chance to speak about the family member.
"I think the parents would be amazed at what the teens say about them during the Wall of Honor," said Diana Lawson, camp director.
Tuesday and Wednesday, flights split into groups to complete flight challenges, horseback ride and participate in a ropes course, which included high- and low-ropes and a zip line with Wednesday night spent relaxing in the hot springs.
On Thursday, campers traveled to McCall, Idaho, for a tour of the fish hatchery, swimming at the lake and ice skating. After clearing out of camp Friday morning, the boys and girls whitewater rafted down the Payette River before heading back to base for a bowling and dance party. The week ended Saturday with breakfast at the bowling center.
"The staff at Mountain Home Youth Programs sees the effects of deployments on young people every day," said Ms. Lawson. "When we learned about this opportunity, we felt this would be a great way to help teens cope with these effects in an outdoor environment experiencing activities they may never have had a chance to do before. It also puts them in contact with other teens in the same situation. Many of our Army National Guard teens in particular may be the only teen in town with a deployed parent. This camp gives them a new support system."
According to the Web site, www.nmfa.org, "the program aims to help military kids experience carefree fun while also learning coping skills to deal with war-related stress and fostering relationships with others who know what they are going through."
"The camp was amazing to say the least," said Airman 1st Class Debbie Lockhart, 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs and volunteer camp counselor. "It was such an awesome experience to see children from so many different backgrounds put all their differences aside and come together as a team."
"OPC helps me see that I'm not alone," said Zack Hall, whose father is in the Air Force. "The biggest problem I had when my dad left was feeling like no one understood me and what I was feeling. When I went to OPC in 2008, and we did the Wall of Honor, it made me see there were others who felt the same way I did, and it helped me out tremendously."
For more information, visit www.nmfa.org