Camp Brings Together Children of Deployed Troops
By K.L. Vantran
American Forces Press Service
WERNERSVILLE, Pa., June 16, 2004 There's a sadness in Army Lt. Col. Kevin Cannard's voice as he talks about his return from Iraq.
Cheryl Whipple and her daughter, Caitlyn, take a break from
the kick-off celebration for Operation Purple, a program that offers military
children a chance to go camping for free. The program is funded by Sears and
organized by the National Military Family Association. Photo by K.L.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Because of the uncertainty of flights from Iraq, Cannard and his wife decided not to tell the children Andrew, 9, and Grace, 7 -- that he was coming home from a six-month tour.
"I'd lost 30 pounds and they weren't expecting me," explained the doctor, who is assigned to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. "They didn't know who I was. I walked up to them and they're looking at me. It was kind of sad that they didn't recognize me. My son said 'Daddy?' Then there were huge hugs. It was a great moment."
Cannard said his children had different reactions when he told them he was deploying. "My son cried and my daughter was quiet," he said. 'Later, she told me she was crying on the inside."
While he was away, the lieutenant colonel said bedtime was particularly rough on the kids. "I'd always read them stories," he said. "The kids always pay the highest price."
Helping children cope with their feelings and the stress of having a parent deployed is one of the goals of Operation Purple, a program that gives kids a chance to attend summer camp for free. The program, which is funded by Sears and organized by the National Military Family Association, kicked off June 15 at the South Mountain YMCA here. Operation Purple will be held in 10 other states and the U.S. territory of Guam.
When he found out that Operation Purple needed a doctor, Cannard said he jumped at the chance to spend time with his children while helping the program.
While he's enjoyed tackling the confidence course and swimming in the pool, Andrew said the best part about camp was having his dad there.
The doctor called Operation Purple a "fantastic" opportunity. "I think it's just incredible. You've got all services represented, as well as the Guard and Reserve, and officer and enlisted. It gives kids a chance to be around other military kids."
Cheryl Whipple, who also is volunteering at the camp, said her daughter, Caitlyn, 10, was having a wonderful time. "It's a great opportunity for kids to talk to each other and counselors,' said Whipple who works in the Pennsylvania National Guard Family Assistance Centers.
Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Michael Kovach, 193rd Special Operations Wing, Middletown, Pa., said he's been deployed many times since 9/11, including tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. He too volunteered to help at the camp to be with his son Kurtis, 12.
Kovach said Kurtis misses him when he's deployed, but the young man understands it's the nature of the job. "He knows that Dad's got to go away from time to time." He the program. "It's a wonderful thing the National Military Family Association has done," he said.
The campers' days are full of activities. "They (the camp staff) really fill up the day," Kovach said. "When 10 o'clock rolls around, everyone is ready to get in the bunks."