Last month, I had one of the best experiences of my service so far here at the National Military Family Association: I shadowed and assisted our Youth Initiatives team at North Bay Adventures Camp during Operation Purple Healing Adventures, a retreat put on by our Association to support wounded service members and their families.
I had a great time on the giant swing, the zip line, and the ropes challenge course. But the most memorable and rewarding part of the camp was being able to interact with the military families we serve, learning their stories, hardships, and strengths.
Our Association always says that military families are courageous and resilient. At the retreat, I saw, firsthand, just how true that is. The families spoke of their wounds, some visible, many invisible, and how those wounds have affected their lives. Some of the service members had physical scars, but none let those scars stop them from taking part in all the activities the camp had to offer. I saw how the families worked together to assist their service member with everyday tasks, some that I take for granted, which required a little extra effort because of the service member’s wounds.
Many of the service members had the trademark invisible wound of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It was clear in some cases, that PTSD had an impact on the entire family. The families talked about the tension between them, caused by living with a loved one who has PTSD. In some of the families, the children shared how they felt a disconnect with their service member parent, because they had a difficult time adjusting to the new personality changes that PTSD caused.
On the final night of the camp, we had a campfire on the beach. It was then that I saw the true healing and transformative effects of the weekend. Family members, who up until that point had been shy, finally opened up. It was as if all the participants had become one big family, sharing stories and laughter.
I could see the transformation from the anxiety and tension in the families upon their arrival, to this new comfort and closeness. The kids were able to connect with their parents in ways that I hope will continue once they are home.
I am truly thankful for the chance to take part in such a great weekend serving military families with our Association.
Would you like to know more about the Operation Purple Program? Visit our website for details about Operation Purple Camp, Operation Purple Family Retreats, and Operation Purple Healing Adventures.