Tag Archives: operation purple camp

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

Best Summer Ever: Sign Up for Operation Purple® Camps NOW!

Make summer 2015 the best ever for your military child! Operation Purple® Camps are heading to a ton of new locations, with breathtaking views, activities, and of course, S’MORES! And believe us: you don’t want to miss out on the S’Mores!

Our Association is now accepting applications for Operation Purple® Camps! The best part: this isn’t just a camp for kids…these camps are the perfect getaway for your teen, too! We’ll even take the occasional teenage eye roll because…why else? We’ve got S’MORES. No one can roll their eyes at S’Mores!

Check out what one of our teen campers had to say about her experience at OPC:

“I’m 17, and I went to an Operation Purple Camp when I lived in North Carolina while my dad was stationed overseas. We lived right outside of Pope Air Base at the time. The camp helped me so much to realize I wasn’t the only one going through deployment, and that I wasn’t alone. Operation Purple is an amazing thing and every military child should experience it. I still have my bag from camp that I got.”

Did we mention this awesome teen camper went on to join the Army? TOTALLY RAD!

If you’re looking for a way to help your military kid meet others just like them, OPC is the perfect place. Take advantage of this FREE camp experience by applying now! Slots will fill up quickly, but the S’Mores will flow, aplenty!

We can’t wait to see you there!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Life After Injury: Can We Go Back to Normal?

veteran-walking-with-daughterThe military changes people, and when that change is physical the adjustment can be especially difficult. When I first met Dave, he used to run to the gym, work out, run back and then ask me if I wanted to walk to dinner. We’d run the trails of Camp Lejeune together, swatting the swamp bugs along the way. He trained me for my first 5K, which was quite a feat since I couldn’t even run a mile when we started. Dave was definitely the fit one, while I was more like a couch potato with the appetite of a truck driver. I even managed to gain 25 pounds within our first 6 months of dating. Hawt, right?

But things changed, thanks to an injury that meant he would have his spine fused. After the surgery, we thought things would go back to normal—and the Marine Corps hoped so too. Unfortunately, the man who used to sprint around town dragging me behind him couldn’t run anymore. Doctors said he shouldn’t put “impact” on his fragile spine, or he might suffer another disc herniation . Passing a PT test wasn’t going to happen and, shortly after that, we separated from the Marine Corps.

The change came with lots of unsolicited fitness advice: “You should try swimming. That’s low impact.” Or “The elliptical is great!” and “Walking burns the same amount of calories as running if you do the same distance.” Um, thanks?

Seven years later, we are still adjusting. With the military far away in our rear view mirror, the changes are still right in front of us. Dave still can’t do the types of physical activities he enjoys most—although he does attempt them every so often. I’ve kept up with my running, for the most part, although I do often feel guilty enjoying an activity that we used to do together. If you ask him, he’ll tell you that he is lucky: “Don’t worry about me – I have all my limbs, and can lead a normal life – there are people much worse-off.” Ah perspective….

That’s why our Operation Purple Healing Adventures® has always been one of my favorite things we do at our Association. Service members, with much more serious injuries than Dave’s, attend camp with their families and try to adjust to a “new normal.” A dad, whose main activity with their kids was sports, sometimes can’t even walk.

I remember watching a double amputee try to discipline his 4 year old, while the kid ran away from him. He was no match for a fully-functioning child. I couldn’t decide whether trying to help would make it worse, so I looked away and let them handle it together as a family.

Those dealing with PTSD seemed to have an even harder time. Their families had to make adjustments about where they sat and even how loudly they spoke.

I am proud that we are able to bring wounded families to our Operation Purple Healing Adventures. Over a decade of war has taken a vicious toll on them, and these families deserve everything we can give—whether it’s help with the next phase of their lives, beginning their healing process as a family, or even to just giving them a few moments of joy.

Have you ever had to adjust your activities because of an injury? How did it go?

Besa-PinchottiPosted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director