Tag Archives: operation purple camp

Operation Purple Family Retreat in the Tetons is Your Family’s “Rest Stop”

There are a wide range of emotions that happen after a service member returns home from deployment. Reunions are filled with excitement and joy that overwhelms the house, leaving a ‘honeymoon feeling’ that can last for days, weeks, even months.

But after the excitement settles, reintegration starts. This can be a long hard journey; it’s like the best road trip you ever took with your family. In the beginning, everyone’s excited, but two hours in things get rough and everyone keeps asking Mom, “Are we there yet?” Dad is telling everyone to settle down, kids are pouting in the backseat, and before you know it, this once fun road trip looks like an upset, stressed out family that needs a rest stop.


Operation Purple Family Retreats® at Teton Science Schools is that rest stop. Families drive from all over the country to reunite and reconnect at this family retreat. The best part is that families get to come together in the Grand National Teton Park doing activities they have never done before, seeing sites together for the first time, and enjoying time with one another in a place where they can stretch out and be a family after a long journey. They make new friends with other families, just like them, and get to celebrate what makes being a military family so special.

With amazing views that house beautiful wildlife and mountain ranges, our Operation Purple families build bonds with other families going through the same stressors of being a military family. These families all understand what it’s like to be military service member, a military spouse, and a military kid.

At Operation Purple Family Retreats in the Tetons, military families will go on hikes through the Tetons, sit in a raft and float down a river seeing beavers, eagles, and sometimes a moose (if you’re lucky)! In the winter, families go cross-country skiing and snow shoeing, and will get one-on-one attention from trained outdoor educators. All while learning resiliency skills from trained licensed professionals.


The best part of Operation Purple Family Retreats at Teton Science Schools is the bond and recharge the families have at the end of camp. It’s a week-long retreat, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s a rest stop on their reintegration road trip.

Operation Purple Family Retreat in the Tetons can be your family’s break to stretch out, relax, and get everyone excited for the road ahead.

If your military family is in need a of ‘rest stop’ to recharge, consider attending Operation Purple Family Retreat in the Tetons! Check our website for updates or sign up to receive notifications when the application window opens!

simmonePosted by Simmone Quesnell, Operation Purple® West Program Manager  

Do You Support Military Families? Prince Harry Does!

Yesterday, I, and several other NMFA employees and volunteers had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Invictus Games event at Fort Belvior, where the First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, along with His Royal Highness Prince Harry spoke about the importance of the games.

During the event, sixteen service members demonstrated their talents in a thrilling wheelchair basketball game. I had never seen a game like this before, and I spent the entire time just enthralled with the incredible grit, athletic ability and spirt of the players on the court. I couldn’t help but get excited about watching the games live when they come to the US in May of 2016.

The Invictus Games are a big deal, because they are about so much more than just playing sports and competing with other countries. These games are a driving force behind recovery and rehabilitation for wounded, injured and sick service members.


Prince Harry founded the Invictus games in the UK back in 2014, while serving in the military there. Reflecting on his two combat deployments in Afghanistan, he said “”There is very little that can truly prepare you for the reality of war. The experiences can be stark and long lasting.” This experience left him with a feeling of “responsibility to all veterans, who had made huge personal sacrifices for their countries, to lead healthy and dignified lives after service.”

The Invictus Games do just that. They bring recovering service members, and their families, together to focus on a goal, and work towards a better future together.


Here at NMFA, we also understand the importance of bringing families together to help them adjust to a new normal after a service connected illness or injury. At our Operation Purple Healing Adventures® camp, service members and their families connect with others on a similar healing journey. They share the feelings, struggles, and obstacles they have overcome with other families who just ‘get it.’ All while enjoying active, nature centered activities.

For the caretakers and children of these wounded service members, seeing their loved one participating in sport and physical activities can be as equally cathartic. A huge part of the military culture is grounded in physical activity and competition, and you can see the joy and admiration in the faces of the families as they watch their loved ones enjoying the activities they played before their injury.


Some of our service members show visible wounds–missing limbs and bodies marked by war–while others are battling invisible injuries. As many as 1 in 4 service members left Iraq and Afghanistan with brain injuries, PTSD, depression and anxiety. We are thrilled to see Invictus welcoming service members suffering from the invisible wounds of war, as well.

At Operation Purple, we often hear how difficult it can be for service members and their families to work through these invisible injuries. While the physical injuries take a toll on the body, the invisible wounded, like PTSD and anxiety, wreak havoc on the mind and soul. We’ve heard stories from families battling these ‘quiet’ injuries, that recovery isn’t always easy. But all families agreed: taking the first step and asking for help was the most important choice.

At the event, we were reminded only 1% of the country puts on a uniform and takes an oath to not leave a fallen comrade behind. We, as a country, take the same oath. We cannot leave them behind. We cannot leave their families behind.


Supporting programs, like Invictus and Operation Purple, is an easy way to give back to these families and let them know that they are not forgotten and we will not leave them behind.

Do you know any service members hoping to compete at the Invictis games next year? Will you be watching?

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

Therapy Dogs and Military Kids Make the World a Better Place!

“Be nice to everyone, even if they are different. If they are different, they may have special qualities that you may really like.” -Awesome MilKid, Operation Purple Camp 2015

Have you thought about this recently? Sometimes, the people who are different from you may actually be some of the most important people you meet or interact with in your life.

At our Operation Purple® Camp in North East, Maryland, that’s one of the messages shared by a young and kind military kid, as she stood up in front of the group and told us what she had learned so far at camp. This was on Military Day, where the kids had a special treat of active duty service members to talk to, military trucks to check out, and a field day just for them.


Another special treat was the appearance of therapy dogs. I met four very special dogs who, with their owners, spend their time helping to make others feel a whole lot better.

The Team Leader for the HOPE, Animal-Assisted Crisis Response, who attended the North Bay Adventure Camp Military Day said one of the biggest benefits of bringing therapy dogs to a camp where kids have faced stress that many of us have never felt or understand, is it creates a ‘bridge’ for them. He said it helps them be able to talk out their feelings, just because of the excitement or distraction of playing with a loving therapy dog.

Military kids sometimes feel different from their peers–like no one understands. But being in a setting where they’re surrounded by other military kids, and exposed to the amazing feeling of being around a therapy dog – it’s just a match made in heaven!

Below are the four amazing dogs I met. These therapy dogs want to make a difference. If you, or someone you know, is in need, please reach out to HOPE, Pet Partners, or the American Humane Association.

Puck is a 4-year-old English Springer Spaniel, who has been a therapy dog for two years. This is Puck’s first year being with the HOPE team, and his first time at an Operation Purple Camp. When Puck isn’t hanging out with awesome military kids, you can find him making his weekly rounds at the Caroll Hospital Center, or on-call at the State Attorney’s Office for kids who are being asked to testify in court and need someone to help them feel more calm.


Peppe is a 9 ½-year-old Italian Grey Hound, who’s been a therapy dog for eight years, and has been with Pet Partners for two and a half years. This is Peppe’s third Operation Purple Camp! When Peppe isn’t making military kids smile, he is working as service animal for those who need to monitor their blood sugar levels. Pictured here, Peppe is hanging out with the kids while one military kid reads to him.


THE BEAR + EMMA (left to right)
The Bear and Emma have been therapy dogs for three years, and have been with HOPE for two years. This is their third year at Operation Purple Camp and love that some of the kids remember them when they return! The Bear and Emma are very busy dogs spending time at the NIH Medical Center, Yellow Ribbon events, with TAPS, and have even shared their love and care after tragedies like the Navy Yard shooting and Hurricane Sandy.

the bear and emma

You never know who you’ll meet in life, but I know these military kids met some new furry friends, who, despite being completely different from them, had some awesome qualities that made their lives a better place.

Do you have a pet that’s helped you through difficult times? Tell us about them!

Jordan-BarrishPosted by Jordan Barrish, Public Relations Manager


Will Our MilKids Find Their Place in This World?

As a military spouse I can tell you first-hand that military life is unpredictable. You are always wondering when the next shoe will drop. Will we move this year? Where? Are we going to be closer to all the family or farther away? Is the next deployment right around the corner?

When you have kids those questions become even more daunting. Because my husband and I signed up for this life, and although we were young when we started this journey, we were adults who had coping skills and the ability to adapt. This is not the case for our military kids. These little people are living this life because of who their parents are, not because of a choice they made themselves. And they have to learn on the fly – at a very young age – many of the things that it takes the rest of us a lifetime to learn. They have to learn to make friends quickly, but be strong enough to tell those friends goodbye when the time comes. They have to be able to pick up their entire life and move somewhere new and see how they fit into the new place, and make it their own. I worry about my kids every day and how their life as part of a military family will impact the person they become. Mostly, I worry that they will feel alone or out of place.

MilitaryKids Find Their Place

This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to attend one of our Operation Purple Camps in NorthBay, Maryland. I was fortunate enough to witness something at camp that made me worry just a little bit less.  I arrived at NorthBay on the third day of camp. I was just in time to join a group of campers who were heading out on a hike. They were all about 10-13 years old with the exception of one 8 year old boy. As I walked behind the group I noticed that one of the boys seemed to be hanging back and wandering off a bit. I was constantly having to encourage him to stay up with the group. He didn’t speak much and didn’t seem to want to participate in the scavenger hunt or even really the hike itself. As soon as I had a chance, I asked the counselor about him. She told me his name was Treyvon and the 8 year old with the group was his little brother, who was with the older kids to make Treyvon more comfortable. Throughout the rest of the hike I was mostly with Treyvon. I spoke with him a little bit about what he liked about camp and what kind of stuff they had been doing. He was a very reserved kid, and often didn’t want to speak, but it was clear that the group activities made him uncomfortable. He didn’t like hiking and whenever we stopped with the group he would start to wander off. This continued throughout the morning with the other activities. Treyvon did not really want to participate. I left the group shortly before lunch time, but Treyvon was weighing heavily on my mind, I was really hoping he was finding his place in his camp activities.

The afternoon at camp was designated “Military Day.” Some soldiers from Aberdeen Proving Ground had come to the camp and brought vehicles for the kids to climb in, body armor to try on, and a rock wall to climb.

I was concluding my time at camp by taking some pictures of the kids enjoying Military Day. I tried to capture as many kids as I could and the fun they were having. As I was looking through some of the photos I had just taken of the rock wall I saw a boy who just leapt off the top – after climbing all the way up – and was laughing with complete joy. As I looked closer I realized that this boy was Treyvon. He had found his happy place at camp – at the top of the rock wall. In that moment I realized that my own military kids are going to be ok, there may be times when they hold back. Times when they feel like wandering off or not participating, but they will find their place. And it may just be at the top of the rock wall at an Operation Purple Camp.

mandy-culverPosted by Mandy Culver, Executive Administrative Assistant

Summertime Backyard Fun for Your MilFam (with tutorials!)


Camp season is officially here!

This week, I boarded a plane to Calfornia, eager to head off to Operation Purple® Camp in Angelus Oaks. I’ve been a military spouse for 10 years, and spent the last three of them in Germany teaching art to military kids on base. I just love how MilKids are so creative, friendly, and fun-loving. Heading to camp with them is something I’ve been looking forward to for months.

To make it even more special, California is “home” for me. Germany was just too far, and my family was too big, so we weren’t able to afford the trip back during our European tour. I’ve been away from home four long years now, and boy, has the California landscape changed. The first thing I noticed when the plane touched down was how brown California has turned since I left!

Unfortunately a brown, dry landscape doesn’t make for a calm fire season. A fire has broken out in the San Bernardino mountains, right outside of the Operation Purple Camp in Angelus Oaks. The roads to camp are closed, and the air conditions are not healthy for kids… which means NMFA had to make the hard decision to postpone camp.

We’re all pretty heartbroken about it. This is something we haven’t had to do in the past, but at this point, the most important thing is making sure our camp kids are safe.

Camp will be held for these kids in a couple weeks, instead. If I’m this disappointed, I can’t imagine how bummed all our MilKids were when they heard camp was going to be postponed.

In the meantime, we don’t want the fires to hold you back from having a little summer fun. We’ve put together a whole list of fun activities (with linked tutorials on our Pinterest Board) for you to try with the kids while you wait for the air to clear up at camp:

1. Pitch a tent in the backyard
2. Make foil packet dinners
3. Eat Smores
4. Learn how to tie knots
5. Make a miniature bow and arrow
6. Make a marshmallow popper
7. Play with giant bubbles
8. Make a dreamcatcher
9. Learn to identify trees from their leaves
10. Learn about bugs
11. Start a nature journal
12. Go on a geocache
13. Learn the constellations
14. Lay down and look at the clouds
15. Have a picnic

Keep busy, have some “camp at home” fun, and hopefully, we’ll see you soon at Operation Purple Camp!

What are some of your family’s favorite summertime activities?

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

Operation Purple® Healing Adventures: Surviving Doesn’t Happen Alone


In the middle of the Pocono Mountains, families are learning to survive–and not just in the wilderness. Wounded, ill, and injured service members and their families gathered over the weekend at Pocono Environmental Education Center in Dingmans Ferry, Pennsylvania, for an Operation Purple Healing Adventure. Families spent three and a half days hiking, canoeing, conquering a ropes course, and finding their ‘new normal’ after their service member’s injury.

Though most wounds were invisible, like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI), other injuries gradually started to become more apparent as the activities took place. One Navy veteran, who was medically discharged because of a lumbar injury, didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to take his children on a 3.5 mile hike to see a natural waterfall. The next morning, with a slower pace and slight limp, he joined his family for breakfast.

Service members know how to survive, and at Healing Adventures, their families are learning, too.

“Don’t let it touch the ground,” one Army veteran whispered to his daughters, as they lowered the American flag during camp’s nightly flag ceremony.

“Now fold diagonally 13 times into a triangle,” he instructed.

“Dad, I didn’t know you knew how to do that!” one daughter said.

He grinned, “I’ve done it a few times before.”

Healing Adventures isn’t only about the outdoor activities and beautiful scenery, parents take part in a group session with educators from Families Overcoming Under Stress (FOCUS), where they speak openly about their struggles with injuries and life after military service. They also learn coping mechanisms to deal with the ups and downs of their ‘new normal.’

An Army National Guard veteran shared, “When I came back from a deployment six years ago, things changed…and I just wondered when everything would stop changing. Being deployed, we knew each day would be different and we were prepared. Being home, you just want things the same. But each day is different…and it’s hard.”

On the second day of camp, families worked together to navigate hiking trails and a ropes course. They learned to communicate effectively, encourage consistently, and eventually, survived as a unit.

Overcoming obstacles are common for military families; constant moving, multiple deployments, mental illness, and visible and invisible injuries are hurdles that take skill and precision in conquering, but with the proper tools, navigation, and resources, like Healing Adventures, families find the confidence to tackle life together.

“This is the first year I’ve started to get involved with some veterans groups to retrain and reintegrate myself, and find my brotherhood and sisterhood of veterans. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to go back into ‘the normal world,’” said one Army Reserves dad.

As the weekend came to a close, and families roasted s’mores together recounting the day’s adventures, one thing was clear: surviving doesn’t happen alone.

Are you a veteran military family? What survival skills have you learned to cope with life after the military?

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

5 Things the Operation Purple Program Gave My Military Family


When my family was chosen to attend an Operation Purple Family Retreat®, I was excited—but also nervous. It was a great opportunity! I’d get to spend a week with my family unplugged from the world. We’d have an adventure in the Grand Tetons. My kids would get to hang out with other military kids with some of the same experiences. So why was I nervous?  As the spouse of a Vermont Air National Guard member, my husband’s base is about 2.5 hours away, so I don’t really spend a lot of time with other spouses in the same situation. How would I fit in with other military families at Operation Purple?

It turns out… I’d fit in just fine. It has been almost been a year since our trip to Teton Science School, and it’s still the vacation that we talk about to anyone and everyone who will listen to us. The experience was unforgettable and had a lasting impact on our family. Here are five things Operation Purple gave my military family:

  1. An Outdoor Adventure. Goodbye iPhones, tablets and TVs. During this family retreat, it was great to just BE with my family. We hiked, canoed, rafted, and dined family-style with others. I really wanted my kids to meet other kids who had gone through a deployment. I hoped it would give them a sense of belonging.
  2. 5-things-opc-gave-my-milfam-2Friends Who Understand Us. My kids hit it off immediately with another family and made friends within 5 minutes. They sang songs in the van with their new friends, and we had a nice adult break away meeting, where we could introduce ourselves and talk openly. The whole environment was fun and relaxed, with ice-breakers like “the one with the longest hair has to serve dinner,” or “whoever has blue eyes is on cleanup duty.
  3. The Opportunity to Give Back. Each Operation Purple Family Retreat includes a stewardship project, and ours involved pulling invasive weeds. It was really important for us to give back to the beautiful area that had given us such a beautiful week, and there’s just something about working with your hands that makes you feel both relaxed and exhausted.
  4. Time to Plan for the Future. How long will we live this military life? Are our kids happy with the choices we’ve made? What are our plans for the future? These are the type of questions that aren’t always easy to talk about when you’re rushing from school to one activity and then another. Our week together gave us time to discuss our future in the military with our children.
  5. A Renewed Sense of Pride. Being around other families like ours was like looking into a mirror for the first time in a long time. Suddenly, I felt extremely proud that we had made it through another deployment as a family. And you know what else? WOW! My kids are amazing! A documentary crew working on a PBS special airing this Memorial Day took an interest in my family, and I am thrilled and proud to share our military story with America.

We feel extremely blessed to have attended an Operation Purple Family Retreat and wish all military families could have that same experience. Military life isn’t easy—thank you Operation Purple for lifting some of the load.

Are you looking for a way to reconnect your military family? Check out our website and apply for an Operation Purple Family Retreat!

Posted by Sarah Noble, military spouse