Tag Archives: military kids

Adventures of an Outlaw in South Dakota

Located in the Black Hills National Forest of South Dakota, surrounded by trees, mountains and beauty, lies Outlaw Ranch. The Ranch held nine weeks of summer camp, but had the honor of closing out their camp season by hosting their first Operation Purple® Camp. But even better: I got to be there.

Being a kid isn’t always easy, especially when you’re a military kid. But the spirit of the campers was strong. There were multiple campers who came from a dual-deployment family–where both parents deployed. For a week, they got to go to camp for FREE and build lasting friendships with other military kids that are facing the same challenges.

I wanted to get the full camp experience since I never attended an overnight camp as a child. I fully immersed myself in the activities, from hiking and kitchen parties to field games and campfire songs, the fun never stopped! National S’mores Day happened right in the middle of the camp week, so of course, I let the camp staff know that a great holiday was upon us. We all celebrated it over an authentic campfire with the most amazing people…and S’mores.

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So, why camp?

“I have never seen anything that is able to transform people’s lives in a short amount of time, both staff as well as campers,” said Camp Director Matt Rusch. As I looked around at the kids braiding each other’s hair, helping each other out with their variety show acts, playing field games and horseback riding, I knew these were experiences the campers would never forget.

I asked a few of the campers what their favorite day was, and the consensus was Military Day. That was no surprise because it was my favorite day as well. Soldiers from, the South Dakota National Guard and Ellsworth Air Force Base came out to coordinate fun activities with the children. There was an inflatable obstacle course, face painting and zorb ball—zorb ball definitely topped the list of the favorite activity.

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“Camp is the perfect place to learn the most about people, improve your personality and experience another world, said Camp Counselor Orsi.

I definitely experienced another world here. If you asked me two weeks ago if I would ever make it to South Dakota, see Mt. Rushmore, go hiking in the Black Hills, it would have been a NO. And for many of the kids, it would have been the same.

On the last night at camp, the children played a game in which they described camp in one word. The top five answers were: fun, awesome, cool, exciting and adventure. I think those answers sum up my experience as well.

I am now thinking about going to camp every summer. Why, well why not?

Has your child attended an Operation Purple Camp? What was their favorite memory?

ivoryPosted by Ivory Smith, Graphic Designer

I’ve Known You For Five Minutes: Will You Be My Emergency Contact?

It’s almost the first day of school and I’m faced with a stack of registration forms. I have my smartphone with me and slips of paper tucked into my purse with names and addresses. Truth be told, I even need to look up my own mailing address because we just moved and the old address 3,000 miles away is what I recall.

I feel pretty on-top-of-it for putting our new address and phone number into my cell phone. That’s a win. Thankfully, I remembered to print out the pediatrician’s contact information. I have a copy of my son’s birth certificate and feel, for a moment, I’m rocking filling out these registration forms.

Then, comes the tough request: Please provide the name, address and phone number of two local emergency contacts. The emergency contact must be within 25 miles of the school.

Oh, dear. Beads of sweat form above my brow. I nervously glance around the school office and watch the other parents filling out their child’s forms. I look for the tell-tale sign of another military spouse, parent – someone who appears to be stressed by the requirements for a local emergency contact. I’ve only been in town a week. I can’t navigate myself around the base let alone have I had time to meet anyone who might be willing to let me add their name to a form as my child’s emergency contact?

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Why can’t I add my mom’s cell phone number and skip the address part? Because, the receptionist politely handed back the forms to me and said, she understood I may be new to town, however, the school has had more than one occasion where neither parent has been available and they needed to contact someone local – not someone several states away- who could immediately pick up a child. Other well-meaning parents had provided contacts out of the local area and the kid was sent to child protective services.

Fast forward three schools later and I’ve become a pro at spotting a potential emergency contact. Before we move, I check with my network of friends and ask who is the area or knows someone in the area. I exchange emails, Facebook messages, and text messages with people who I have never met screening them as potential emergency contacts. If there is a school event, such as a registration day, I chat nervously with folks in line and try to find someone in my situation – another non-local eager to make friends and willing to be an emergency contact for my child in exchange for me being a contact for her child.

The key, I’ve found, is offering to be a contact for someone else.

I know it can be nerve-wracking to ask a near stranger to be an emergency contact. I find that most moms are relieved when I offer to be a contact for their child as well. After I establish a network in the area, I update the registration emergency contact information. I keep a list in my smartphone and on a virtual drive and make sure each emergency contact has a copy of my list and specific information related to my child. If I’m listed as an emergency contact, I ask the parent for contact information and specifics about their child, just in case.

I remain cordial with emergency contacts and several have become great friends. It turned out there was a flash flood in our local area and another parent couldn’t make it to the school in time to pick up her child. Her spouse was deployed and she didn’t have anyone else in the area. I told her not to worry; I was listed as her emergency contact and my path to the school wasn’t washed out by the flash flood. I was happy to help and she was relieved she didn’t have to worry about her child’s safety.

In our mobile lifestyles, it isn’t uncommon to ask a near stranger to be an emergency contact. What other tips would you offer to military families?

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Issue Strategist

Dear New Teacher, It’s My Military Child’s First Day of School

Dear New Teacher,

Today my child enters your classroom for the first time in a new school. It might be the first day of the school year, or it might be inconveniently smack-dab in the middle of a grading period. He likely knows no one in his homeroom class, likely no other children in the school.

Every child has a story to tell, and mine is no different. I am hoping to share a bit of his story with you since you will be with him, teaching and guiding him, this year. His story includes attending preschools in three different states. He will be in second grade next year. And he will be preparing to move again to a new school, his third elementary school since Kindergarten.

His daddy deployed to a combat zone when he was very young, and has been home for the past few years. But my son knows what soldiers do. He knows that someday his daddy will likely deploy again to a place he can’t yet find on a map for more days than he can count, for reasons nearly impossible for a child to understand.

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He didn’t choose this life.

But I asked him if he ever wishes that he weren’t a military kid, and he said, “No, why? What would Daddy do if he weren’t in the Army?” You see, this is the only life he knows. He is a happy, resilient, funny, sweet kiddo. I’m so proud of each obstacle he has overcome.

We do have bad days, though. He misses his old friends, our old home, our old church, and our old routines. He occasionally asks when we can go visit our old houses, and the restaurants and parks in a town we used to live in. To be honest, military life is downright difficult sometimes. But this is one thing I’ve learned: military children are so very strong. And so very brave. Military children are resilient. They simply don’t know how to be anything less.

Please keep in contact with me and let me know if he has any difficulties in school during (and after) this transition. The purpose of this letter is not only to inform you of my son’s background but to affirm our family’s commitment to support him, and you, his teacher.

Thank you for answering the call to educate the children of our great nation. What a truly noble and worthy profession you have chosen! Thank you for loving children who aren’t your own, and shaping their lives forever. And thank you for supporting our military-connected child, during yet another transition for him. Because of your support at school and the support of our community, my spouse is able to commit fully to his own calling: serving our country.

Sincerely,
Mama of a Military Child

What would you tell your child’s new teacher? 

teresa-bannerPosted by Teresa Banner, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer

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

Turning Pages When Turning Corners: Using Books to Start Conversations With Kids

I can’t stand the smell of cardboard boxes. Or saying goodbye to friends. Or living out of a suitcase. However, moving is an inevitable part of military life, and preparing my kids for our move later on this year is coming up on my mom-radar. When facing several pivotal childhood moments, like potty training, making friends, and starting elementary school, my husband and I enlist the help of children’s books to help us begin conversations. As we prepare to turn another corner and encounter our next relocation, these are the children’s books that we’re reading at my house:

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Boomer’s Big Day by Constance W. McGeorge

My son loves this book about Boomer and his big move to a new house, as told through a the eyes of a dog. One day Boomer suddenly realizes all of his favorite toys are packed up in boxes. He’s not quite sure what to think of the boxes and movers. When he arrives to the new home, he learns that lots of new friends are waiting to meet him!

The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day by Stan and Jan Berenstain

Who doesn’t love the classic Berenstain Bear family? Brother and Sister are moving to a new house, and don’t know quite what to expect. The Berenstain family says goodbye to old friends, watches the movers load their household goods, and then finds new, exciting experiences waiting for them at their new home.

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

Chester’s nervous about starting school, and his mama, Mrs. Raccoon, shares the perfect remedy to assuage his fears. Together, they find a routine that helps both raccoons cope as Chester starts attending a new school. Hands-down, this is my favorite new school book! I think The Kissing Hand is perfect for talking about first day jitters.

My Very Exciting, Sorta Scary Move by Lori Attanasio Woodring

The title was the first thing that drew me to order this book. Written by a licensed psychologist, the ideas in this collection of activities are carefully developed with knowledge of how to help small minds through transitions. This book provides several parent-child conversation starters and the pages are filled with activities to help children and parents understand change and emotions.

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney

Though Guess How Much I Love You does not necessarily relate to moving, it’s a sweet book that I find myself reading to my kiddos regularly, especially during times of transition. Its reassuring message offers parents an opportunity to start meaningful, reassuring conversations with their children.

Though PCSing is difficult, but moving to a new community brings new beginnings, new friends, and new opportunities. Best wishes for your next PCS!

Do you use books to help your child through milestones or transitions? Which ones would you recommend?

teresa-bannerPosted by Teresa Banner, National Military Family Association Volunteer

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