A bubbling brook and laughter set the soundtrack for our latest Operation Purple® Buddy Camp hosted at Lazy F Camp and Retreat Center in Ellensburg, Washington. Children and adults alike donned swim clothes and hopped on inner tubes to traverse the “rapids” down Manastash Creek, which cuts through the campgrounds. At face value, these were families just like any other enjoying quality time together. However, for many attending this camp, it was the first time they spent time away from their wounded service members to have a few days together with their child.
June, an Army spouse and caregiver, told us her reason for applying to Buddy Camp was to allow one of her children to experience camp away from home and away from the caregiving duties of their everyday life.
June not only takes care of her husband, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq eight years ago, she also cares for one of her daughters, who has special needs and is in a wheelchair. This makes June a duel-caregiver. Over dinner she shared that Buddy Camp was the first real “break” that she can remember—she is also a mother of 4 children under the age of 16 years old. Not only does June fill this duel-caregiver role, but so does her 10-year old daughter, Ashlyn, who helps take care of her sister and dad.
At the end of the retreat, June said, “This was my first time (by choice) leaving my wounded husband and special needs daughter as a dual-caregiver to go enjoy a retreat. Thank you for this opportunity and experience as I will never forget it!”
Also at Buddy Camp was 12-year old Matthew, whose parents are both dealing with injuries.
“I loved being able to choose activities to do with our Dad,” Matthew explained. His dad shared the sentiment and said, “This camp gave us a chance to bond away from home and get away from the day-to-day.”
At the end of the camp, we ask parents what they learned about their children. The answer from most was often the same. They were proud of how tough their kids are and how they faced their fears. One dad remarked, “I learned that excitement should not be confused with not listening. It was a cool revelation. Sometimes it’s tough for us parents to remember that sometimes kids just need to be kids.”
Hannah, an Army spouse and caregiver, said, “I think it’s important to recognize that kids fall into the role of caregiver also. But it’s an unfortunate reality that the kids have to take on that role also because this is so much a part of their lives.”
The idea of Operation Purple Buddy Camp came together in 2017 to provide the military child and adult “Buddy” quality one-on one time to foster communication, create new memories, and reconnect away from their everyday stressors. For our military caregivers and their kids, this is an ideal setting to focus on the parent-child relationship.
The current Buddy Camp model is based on a proven, three-part strategy of building social support networks for kids and adults, engaging in physical exercise, and learning to deal with stressors through workshops facilitated by trained professionals.
In July of 2018, the National Military Family Association and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation hosted a ‘Children of Military Caregivers Impact Forum’ sponsored by Wounded Warrior Project. The collaborative event validated many of the challenges and needs facing these caregiver families. As a result, the National Military Family Association, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, and the Wounded Warrior Project combined efforts to begin to make a difference in the lives of military children living with a wounded, ill, or injured parent and a parent serving as a caregiver. These amazing kids need more chances to just be kids. Operation Purple Buddy Camp was created as result of that Forum.
Many thanks to the Wounded Warrior Project, who funded our Buddy Camp in Ellensburg, and to the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, who provided travel stipends to the families so they could take time away from their wounded warriors.