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'Operation Purple' Camps Meet Critical Military Family Need

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 9, 2004 – The armed services offered a plethora of youth activities, but until recently there was a lack of programs that directly address children's anxieties when one or both parents are deployed overseas, a military family advocate said Aug. 5.

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Front row from left: Jasson Balboa, Ryan Vendrely, Tye Gray and Mike Bryant and (back row from left) Cecelia Wallace, North Carolina National Guard Youth Coordinator, Michael Durham and Jonathan Leist pose for a photo Aug. 5 at the Millstone 4-H camp in Ellerbe, N.C. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore

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That's all changed, National Military Family Association Executive Director Julia Pfaff noted at the "Operation Purple" youth camp at Ellerbe, N.C. Camps, Pfaff noted, were held this summer in 11 states and Guam, and are co-sponsored by the Defense Department, the NMFA, and Sears, Roebuck and Co.

Citing results from a NMFA study conducted from Sept. 11, 2001, to March 31 of this year, Pfaff noted there were plenty of DoD youth programs for fun and entertainment, but none that helped military youth "deal with the stressors of deployment."

About 1,000 children participated in this year's Operation Purple, according to a NMFA news release. About 50 children attended the weeklong camp at Ellerbe, which concluded Aug. 5.

A key purpose of Operation Purple, Pfaff explained, is to communicate with children of deployed servicemembers, assuring them, "if you're angry because your dad or mom is gone, it's OK. That's a normal feeling, but you have to channel that in a positive way."

Sears donated $2 million to the NMFA to develop and enhance programs that address the unique challenges faced by military families, and the company will support an expanded Operation Purple for next year, Sears' senior public relations executive, Robert J. O'Leary, noted Aug. 5 at the Millstone 4-H camp in Ellerbe.

Operation Purple youth camps are cost-free, except for a small registration fee, for children of active, reserve, and National Guard members.

Besides group discussions led by motivational speaker Paul Vann, who'd also worked at other Operation Purple camps, the Ellerbe camp also featured horseback riding, canoeing, archery, and more.

The Ellerbe camp featured participants from several states, such as Tye Gray, 16, from Waldorf, Md. Gray said his active-duty Army mother is now serving stateside. The camp, Gray said, provides a good service by providing servicemembers' children the opportunity to discuss their feelings about their military parents' deployments. "They get to meet other people with the same problem," Gray pointed out.

Chris Aubright, 15, said he remembers when his Navy corpsman father was deployed to the Middle East in recent years, noting he'd "had to help my mom out a lot" with additional chores. Aubright said it's important for family members to keep in contact with deployed military fathers or mothers because "it matters to them and it really helps them" perform their mission.

Aubright's father, Anthony, had stopped in Ellerbe to pick up his son. The Ellerbe 4-H facility, he said, "is a beautiful place," while noting his thanks for those who'd created Operation Purple.

Operation Purple, Pfaff said, should greatly assist National Guard members, since they and their families may live far away from their assigned units, and therefore have less in-house support.

Kim Durham's sons Michael, 15, and Kory, 11, attended the Ellerbe camp. Durham, a family readiness coordinator for the North Carolina National Guard's 1452nd Transportation Company in Winston-Salem, N.C., said her husband, Michael, has been serving in Iraq for the past five months.

Kim Durham recommended that wives or husbands "work out any differences" with their spouses before deployment. "Don't bog them down while they're there, because they lose focus" on the mission, Durham explained. "Then, that puts their life in danger," she concluded.

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Related Sites:
National Military Family Association
Operation Purple

Related Articles:
Military Kids Talk Deployment Issues at North Carolina Camp
Camp Brings Together Children of Deployed Troops
'Operation Purple' Sends Deployed Members' Children to Camp
Operation Purple Offers Free Summer Camps to Military Kids

Click photo for screen-resolution imageJonathan Leist, 15, is mounted on "Dumpling," a quarter horse, as camp instructor Andrew Gore stands by Aug. 5 at the Millstone 4-H camp in Ellerbe, N.C., one of 11 stateside "Operation Purple" facilities run this summer. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore  
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