'Operation Purple' Sends Deployed Members' Children to Camp
By K.L. Vantran
American Forces Press Service
WERNERSVILLE, Pa., Jun. 16, 2004 Campers and counselors didn't seem to mind the scorching midday sun here June 15 as they joined hands and swayed to the patriotic tunes on the athletic field of the South Mountain YMCA.
Operation Purple spokeswoman Jessica Lynch signs a camper's
shirt. Lynch helped kick off the National Military Family Association program,
which gives children of deployed or previously deployed service members a free
week at camp. The program is running in 11 states and the U.S. territory of
Guam. Photo by K.L. Vantran
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The youngsters, military children representing all services to include Reserve and National Guard, helped kick off "Operation Purple," a program giving a free week of camp to children of deployed or previously deployed parents.
The program, which has given more than 150 kids the chance to enjoy camping here, would not have been possible without the National Military Family Association, the Sears American Dream Campaign and the Pennsylvania National Guard, said Janet Marquis, acting executive director, South Mountain YMCA.
John M. Molino, deputy undersecretary of defense for Military Community and Family Policy, who helped celebrate the kickoff, agreed.
He told campers the week they will have will be "truly magical," but wouldn't have been possible without the hard work, dedication and generosity of the NMFA, Sears, National Guard and volunteers.
Molino then addressed the children. "You are a source of inspiration to your parents," he told those sitting on the grassy field. "You may not realize it, but you're the reason they serve. You're the reason they continue to thrive."
Army Brig. Gen. Robert P. French, deputy adjutant general, Pennsylvania National Guard, told the children he knew they were proud of their parents for their service to the country. "They're helping keep America free so we can do camps like this," he added.
One of the goals of the camp, which was dubbed "Camp Keystone Courage," is to give children a chance to sort through their emotions, said Julia Pfaff, NMFA executive director.
Since she is a military spouse and her children's father has been deployed, NMFA President Candace Wheeler told the campers she understands what they are going through, but that each person's journey is different. "It isn't easy," she said while encouraging the children to talk to each other and to share their feelings.
"I do hope this camp provides you the opportunity to go back (home) knowing you've made a friend who is going through something similar," she added.
Wheeler also introduced Operation Purple's spokeswoman, former soldier and prisoner of war Jessica Lynch, who donated $10,000 to the program.
"Her deep commitment of giving something back to military youth brought her here today," said Wheeler.
Lynch, a native of Palestine, W.Va., was a private first class in the Army during the first days of Operation Iraqi Freedom when her maintenance convoy was attacked in March 2003. She was taken prisoner and held captive for nine days.
"I've often said I miss the Army and serving," Lynch told the campers. By helping children deal with the stress of deployment through Operation Purple, Lynch said, she believes she is serving her fellow soldiers.
"I think that the children of the men and women serving are serving our country as well by supporting their moms and dads," she added.
Bob O'Leary, senior vice president for public relations and government affairs for Sears, Roebuck and Co., echoed others' sentiments in his brief remarks.
"I hope you have a great week," he said. "I hope you talk to each other about what special people you are and what special people your parents are."
O'Leary said Operation Purple is "exactly the type of thing" his company had in mind when it was searching for a corporate-citizen project.
"When I walked around the corner here today and saw the Frisbees and footballs flying and everyone dancing, it wasn't about the money," he said. "It was pride. I get to go back and send the message to our 237,000 employees that their company is supporting the spirit of America. You are what this is all about."