Category Archives: Operation Purple

The Magic of Operation Purple Camp

I’m not what you’d call an “outdoorsy person.” Hailing from the armpit of the country (Florida), I’ll do some water sports, but mostly live and die by good AC. So it’s a wonder I didn’t think spending a week camping in Tennessee might be my undoing until I was on the plane.

Prior to my flight, the idea of spending time with military kids and seeing our Association’s vision in action outweighed any doubts. Cue Camp Widjiwagan, which is just outside of Nashville. The site for this Operation Purple® Camp reminded me of the residential summer camp from The Parent Trap.

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We spent a ton of time in humidity that might rival the Sunshine State’s but camp was everything a child could want (it even had AC). From The Blob in Heavy Weights, to zip lining, and a pretty fabulous water slide situation. Camp itself was phenomenal, but what was most interesting to me was how much these kids are able to completely let go.

About 100 Operation Purple campers came from all walks of military life— kids of veterans and active duty. The kids were instantly connected through those affiliations, but spent their week at camp being just kids. There were awkward teen moments, crushes and even a breakup or two.

I spent most of my time with the Operation Purple group of 11 to 16 year old girls. I think one of their counselors, Ronni, put it best when she told me that even though the girls followed orders better than any of her other campers this summer, she knew what they really wanted from this experience was to feel normal. Away from thoughts of deployments, PCS’s and screens, they thrived, relishing one last taste of everything summer should be.

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I didn’t get to be as unplugged as I wanted, but this city girl might have gone through a transformation of her own. I did check work emails and dragged my camera all through the woods. But I also pet two adorable baby pigs, hung out with donkeys, goats and horses and saw wild turtles and deer while running paths in the woods.

These things are unremarkable for most people, but refreshing for me, and absolute magic for all of the military kids involved. And in the end, that is exactly what the camp experience we’re able to offer these kids…absolute magic.

Would your military child love a week at Operation Purple Camp? Check out the locations around the US!

margaritaPosted by Margarita Cambest, Staff Writer

Operation Purple Camp: A Memorable Experience for More Than Just the Kids

Recently, I had the privilege of attending the National Military Family Association’s Operation Purple Camp® (OPC) for the first time. Working for NMFA for more than a year and being familiar with the camp, I thought that I knew what to expect when I visited but after only a few minutes I realized I was wrong.

After spending the entire day at the camp, I asked myself one simple question: who had the biggest impact on who?

There was no doubt the camp was having a big impact on the military kids who were attending the camp but were they the only ones getting something out of this?

For the military kids, the camp was giving them a week to just be kids; no worrying about what was happening at home, or their parent that was currently deployed. I spoke with two girls who had been to the camp for the last couple of years—it’s a camp they look forward to. They only see each other once a year at these camps, but they declared they were best friends. This is what OPC is all about: a chance to be among friends who understand what you go through every day. And for most military kids, keeping friends through the years, and through the PCS moves, is rare. OPC gives them the opportunity to connect (and reconnect) with friends that will last a lifetime.

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But what about the other people involved with OPC?

On the day I visited, it was military day at the camp. In the afternoon, I watched as the kids lined up for their chance to climb into the Stryker that was brought in for the day. As one little girl climbed in, the soldier who was helping her asked if she remembered him from the year before. Both had been at OPC, but for different reasons. The soldier looked through the line and started to pick out the other kids he recognized. He grinned from ear to ear. It was clear that OPC was reaching more than just military kids.

Out of everyone I spoke with that day, it was the conversation I had with the counselors that stuck out most to me. For almost all of these counselors, it was their first time working with an Operation Purple Camp. And after only three days, you could see the way these military kids impacted their lives. They spoke on how mature the kids in their groups were, noting that when they were that age, they were talking about what they were going to do that weekend…not what they were going to do when they grew up.

Some kids talked about what they were going to study in college to get to the career they wanted. One counselor said, “I go to college in the fall and I still don’t know what I am going to study!”

Others talked about how they were impressed with how the kids encouraged each other, helped each other to get through activities, and looked out for one another. Each time I talked to a counselors, I noticed they all spoke about their campers like proud older siblings.

I wasn’t immune to the impact of this camp, I was there for only one day and I came away seeing not only how OPC affects military kids, but how those military kids impact the world around them, too.

Has your child ever been to an Operation Purple Camp? Tell us about their experience!

Patricia-CPosted by Patricia Contic, Government Relations Legislative Coordinator

Need Bonding Time With Your Spouse and Kids? Operation Purple Healing Adventures Brings the Magic!

Not long ago, I worked at one of our many Operation Purple Healing Adventures®. This retreat is for wounded service members and their families to celebrate rediscovering family-fun and togetherness after an injury.

As I met and registered the families for the retreat, it was clear to me how some families seemed disconnected, while others seemed excited with anticipation. It reminded me of my own joys and pains of being left behind during deployments with a young child. I was worried about my service member, yet upset he was leaving me with all of the responsibilities that I didn’t create alone.

Once everyone was registered and settled into their rooms, dinner was served! The parents were quiet and tired from traveling, and I assumed they were also probably nervous about the weekend ahead of them. But the kids were enjoying meeting one another, playing with the therapy dogs, chatting about the nature hikes, climbing the indoor rock wall, riding the giant swing, flying over the water on the zip line tower, canoeing and kayaking, eating s’mores at the campfire, arts and crafts, watching movies, and the numerous carnival games to come.

I’d be looking forward to a good night’s sleep, too, if I were those parents!

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At breakfast the next morning, the parents looked rested, and the kids were ready for all the activities. I could see the parents watching, taking pictures and videos, and talking amongst one another while the kids took on the activities, and I hoped they’d eventually join in the fun together as a family.

Then the magic happened: one father challenged his child to a zip line race, and one mother bonded with her child by seeing who could scream the loudest on the giant swing. And the next thing I knew, parents were bonding with their children by participating in all the activities, no matter what their injury.

After working up an appetite and eating an awesome lunch, the parents took part in the Operation Purple FOCUS (Families OverComing Under Stress™) Parent Groups. This allowed time for them to work together, with support, to enhance their relationships through communication activities aimed at building connections and family closeness.

During the FOCUS Parent Groups, the kids did more activities outside supervised by an amazing camp staff. At first, the parents were quiet, listening to the Operation Purple and FOCUS staff do all the talking. But one woman spoke up, sharing a personal story that many others could relate to, and pretty soon, all joined in, sharing their own experiences.

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At dinner, parents were busy talking about what went on during the Parent Group, while the kids continued to tire themselves out with more activities. I could see a difference in the families from the previous day, where most seemed to be at Healing Adventures for their kids, rather than themselves. But the next day, the parents found themselves again as husband and wife through togetherness, smiles, and hand-holding.

And on the last day, guess what? The parents realized for all the fun, food, and lodging, all they spent was time.

If you are a military family with a service member who is wounded, ill, injured, medically separated, or medically retired, and want to join us on an Operation Purple Healing Adventures, check out our website to see if a camp will be near you.

We can’t wait to see you!

nataliePosted by Natalie Mizell, Youth Initiatives Program Coordinator

Grab a Bite to Eat, and Help Military Families…At the SAME Time!

Summertime means BBQ, family time, and travel! And this summer, the National Military Family Association is excited to partner with TravelCenters of America for the fourth year in a row to honor active duty military, veterans, and their families.

From June 28 through August 5, Country Pride and Iron Skillet full-service restaurants will donate $1.00 to NMFA on select breakfast, lunch and dinner menu items sold each day for the duration of the campaign.

That’s right…donating to an awesome cause just got THAT much easier, and more delicious! Just by eating food, you’ll help NMFA continue to impact military families, like the Stack family, who attended our Operation Purple Family Retreat in Wyoming.

“We are so thankful for this opportunity to come here and be able to reconnect,” Jason Stack, active duty service member and father of two, shared. “We get to just be together as a family without the distraction of phones or internet, or anything. It’s really nice to just bond together as a family.”

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Does it get better than that?

Actually, it does.

On July 4th, select menu items will be available for free to all active military personnel and veterans at both TA and Petro full-service restaurants to honor the service and sacrifice of the men and women who’ve served our country—something the Stack family knows all too well.

“We try to support him,” wife Christina explained. “Especially when he’s away, I try to make sure everything’s taken care of at home so he doesn’t have to worry about it. He knows and trusts I can handle life at home while he’s gone, and that helps him focus on his job while he’s away.”

So, as you and your family travel around this summer, keep TravelCenters of America in mind to help give back and support military families, like the Stack’s.

Our nation’s military families sacrifice every day. Take a pit stop to show them their sacrifice isn’t unnoticed.

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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PEPPE
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.

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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.

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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