MANNFORD, Okla., July 13, 2017 —
He looked around the room, and for once he was surrounded by kids like him -- 166 kids to be exact.
Twelve-year-old Aaron Nix, of Midwest City, Oklahoma, was checking into the 21st annual Oklahoma National Guard Kids Kamp at Camp Victory in Mannford, Oklahoma, July 5-8, 2017.
“I can’t wait for all the games,” Nix said as he talked about what the day would bring with his fellow campers.
This unique summer camp is for kids with parents serving in the Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard. Kids who can relate to Nix in his day-to-day life are few and far between, because less than one percent of Americans serve in the military. The camp brings military kids together and provides them the chance to share their experiences and the unique challenges of growing up as a military child.
“Deployments can be traumatic, and those kids will tell you they feel very isolated,” explained Pamela Reeds, lead child and youth program coordinator for the Oklahoma National Guard. Reeds has been involved with Kids Kamp for eight years.
“A 9-year-old told me, ‘I can’t wait to go and be with people like me.’ That is exactly why we do this camp,” Reeds said.
'We Go For the Heart'
Ten staff members from the Oklahoma National Guard Family Program Office partnered with more than 30 volunteers to put on camp, which consisted of more than 20 different games and activities from zip-lining to horseback riding and learning to march.
“We don’t want to do shallow programing,” Reeds said. “We go for the heart. Through games, kids learn things like empathy, resiliency, teamwork and leadership. Absolutely every [Oklahoma National Guard] child is welcome here. We want to take care of those who are hurting.”
The Kids Kamp theme this year was "We Are Family." Aaron Nix was joined by his older sister, mom and dad, all repeat volunteers who make Kids Kamp an annual family affair.
“They are giving up vacations, and are a joyful and amazing family,” Reeds said. “I’ve never worked with volunteers like those who come to Kids Kamp. They humble you.”
Army Sgt. 1st Class Lee Nix is Aaron’s dad. He works in recruiting for the Oklahoma Army National Guard and has been volunteering at Kids Kamp for seven years.
“The kids and Pam Reeds keep us coming back,” he said. “Even though it’s our 25th wedding anniversary, we would rather be here.”
Aaron’s mom, Wendy Nix, has volunteered at Kids Kamp for 10 years, and this year was a camp leader for the same age group alongside her husband.
“I came the first year and got hooked,” she said. “Our daughter has grown up here.”
Aaron’s sister, Peyton Nix, started as a camper 11 years ago and is now a volunteer group leader.
“I’ve made lifelong friends,” she said. “Kids Kamp helped me accept being a military kid, because there aren’t a lot of other kids out there that can relate to us.”
Reeds explained she commonly sees kids feel guilty when they are laughing and having a good time, because they are worried about their service member being in harm’s way.
“We teach these kids having fun is what their parents want them to do,” Reeds said. “It helps them be better soldiers and airmen. This is a safe zone. There is no guilt here for being happy and having a good time.”
Kids Kamp is full to capacity with a waiting list every year, and this year was no different. It is common for kids to return to camp several times, building lifelong friendships along the way.
“They call it their second family,” Reeds said. “It gives them courage, and they will tell you they don’t feel alone. We teach the kids that they serve, too. Kids are our heroes.”