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Military Kids Talk Deployment Issues at North Carolina Camp

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

CHARLOTTE, N.C., Aug. 6, 2004 – About 80 miles east of this bustling southern city lies the small town of Ellerbe, part of a rural community nestled amid pine woods that echo with the summer song of crickets.

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Kimberly Gray, left, 10, and Jade Williams, 12, pose for a picture after lunch Aug. 5 at the "Operation Purple" closing ceremony at Millstone 4-H camp in Ellerbe, N.C. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore
  

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In a soft, but strong voice, 15-year-old Travis Hellermann told other campers and visiting dignitaries at the camp that he'd spent "a long, hard year," since his father, a member of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, was killed in Iraq on Aug. 6, 2003.

Hellermann said his father had died "doing what he loved." And "instead of sitting around feeling sad," Hellermann noted he'd gone to camp and "had fun" while sharing his feelings with other campers.

The camp, the brainchild of the National Military Family Association, is one of many "Operation Purple" camping programs held this summer for military kids across 11 states and Guam. Operation Purple is co-sponsored by the Department of Defense and Sears, Roebuck and Co., which donated $2 million to the NMFA to develop and enhance programs that address the unique challenges faced by military families.

The NMFA, a nonprofit group with headquarters in Alexandria, Va., decided earlier this year to sponsor the camps so that children of deployed service members could discuss their feelings with others about having an absent parent who'd been called to duty, according to Julia Pfaff, the organization's executive director.

Military deployments, Pfaff pointed out at the Millstone 4-H camp outside Ellerbe, are challenging situations for the deployed parent, the other parent or caregiver remaining at home, and, of course, the children.

It's only normal, Pfaff observed, for children to experience a kaleidoscope of emotions when a parent is deployed.

It's therefore important, she noted, for parents to closely observe their children's emotional health while a loved one is deployed. For example, she said, some children don't want to upset their parents, so they try to hide their anxieties.

Sometimes "you have to help your children put words" to their feelings, Pfaff explained, noting that her son had developed insomnia some years ago when her military husband had been deployed to Kuwait. Pfaff said she found it necessary to take her son to a counselor to address his anxieties.

Paul Vann, a motivational speaker who'd worked at this and some other "Operation Purple" camps, said he'd taught participants that the power of positive thinking could be harnessed to cope with deployment-related stress.

"If you participate in the camps, that's a positive activity," Vann pointed out, noting military children can also get involved in volunteer activities, such as helping disabled veterans.

Besides group discussions, the camp offered horseback riding, canoeing, archery, and skeet shooting, said Jonathan Leist, 15, whose active duty Air Force father is deployed in Kuwait.

"I wish he was here, and I hope he stays safe," Leist said, adding he liked the camp so much that he was "reluctant" to leave.

Participants at the Ellerbe camp came from several states. Adam Parker, 16, from Maiden, N.C., said his father is now in Iraq with the North Carolina National Guard.

"I'm glad that they were able to get all these military kids together from different branches of the military," Parker said, "so we could all trade experiences and ideas on ways to cope with deployment stress."

Parker said he misses his father, but added he is very proud of his dad's military service. He recommended that children of deployed servicemembers "share their feelings with everybody in their family and make everybody aware of how they're feeling."

Dignitaries who attended the Operation Purple closing ceremony included Mary Easley, wife of North Carolina Gov. Michael Easley; Secretary Bryan E. Beatty, North Carolina Department of Crime Control and Public Safety; Army Maj. Gen. William E. Ingram Jr., adjutant general of North Carolina, Robert J. O'Leary, Sears' senior public relations executive; and Candace Wheeler, NMFA president.

Jan Witte, director for the Pentagon's Office of Children and Youth, also was at closing ceremony. She saluted the great strength of military families. A recent NMFA survey, she said, indicates adequate programs, such as Military One Source, are available to families whose military sponsors are deployed.

And Operation Purple is receiving "wonderful response" from participants and parents. "We're really very excited about all of this," Witte added.

Ingram applauded Operation Purple and noted more than 7,000 North Carolinians have been called up for active military duty since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

O'Leary said Sears would support an expanded Operation Purple for next year, noting his company's sponsorship of the program "is the right thing to do."

Sears, which employs more than 200,000 people in the United States, "is very supportive" of its 300 or so employees currently on active duty in support of the war on terrorism, O'Leary pointed out. The company continues to provide differential pay and other benefits for employees called up for military duty, he said.

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Related Sites:
Operation Purple
National Military Family Association
DoD Office of Children and Youth

Related Articles:
'Operation Purple' Sends Deployed Members' Children to Camp


Click photo for screen-resolution imageMotivational speaker Paul Vann recommends that children of military members harness the power of positive thinking to help cope with deployments. Vann spoke to 50 participants Aug. 5 at the "Operation Purple" camp in Ellerbe, N.C. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageForeground: Tylor Richmond, 13, left, and camp instructor Will Morgan stand ready as Matt Ingalls, 13, prepares to climb back into a second canoe after retrieving a fallen paddle. Ingalls' canoe mates, Nick Hunkin, 13, left, and Ryan Sullivan, 12, prepare to help. The young men were participating in an "Operation Purple" canoeing class held Aug. 5 at the Millstone 4-H camp in Ellerbe, N.C. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMary Easley, wife of North Carolina Gov. Michael Easley, talks to participants Aug. 5 at the Millstone 4-H camp in Ellerbe, N.C. Easley is wearing a T-shirt signed by all 50 camp participants. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore  
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