Landing new friends
Operation Purple Camp helps military kids connect
— As the military helicopter broke over the tree line at NorthBay Adventure Camp, chants of “USA, USA” broke out from the group of about 100 kids
gathered on the grass field below.
But in the end, the kids were more interested in the helicopter itself than the woman who walked out of it. The group politely listened to Maj. Gen. Linda Singh talk for a few minutes before making a mad dash across the field in hopes of being the first one inside the helicopter.
“They’re always more excited to see the helicopter,” Singh joked after.
The helicopter and its visitor were just one part of Military Experience Day at Operation Purple Camp, a camp designed to bring together kids of military families for a week of fun activities. As part of Military Experience Day, the kids got a chance to become familiar with the basic military skills many of their parents have learned including drill and ceremony, cadence writing, basic first aid, MRE cooking and eating, an obstacle course, physical fitness, land navigation and military vehicles.
All the kids at the camp, who ranged in age from 9 to 12 years old, have a parent in the military and some have had a parent deployed within the last 15 months.
The free camp, which is one of dozens held across the country every summer, is sponsored by the National Military Families Association and dubbed Operation Purple because the color is a mix of Army green, Coast Guard blue, Air Force blue, Marine Corps red and Navy blue. Maj. Gen. Linda Singh talks to kids at Operation Purple Camp as part of Military Experience Day.
NorthBay has been hosting the camp for the past six summers and is the only camp location in Maryland.
While the week at NorthBay gives kids a chance to experience a variety of outdoor activities such as the rope course, zip line and giant swing, it also gives them a chance to connect with other military kids.
“It’s great for them to be able to come together,” Singh said. “They’re not alone and they realize they’re not alone and that their parents aren’t the only ones that are deployed or may not be at home and I think that helps a lot.”
Army Sgt. David Preciado, who is currently stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground, has a son Jordan, 9, at the
camp. Preciado said his family just moved to the area and when he found out about the camp, he thought it would be a good opportunity for his son to be around other military children and share stories.
Preciado said the level of support he’s seen at the camp has been “mind-blowing” and he’s also been impressed by all the activities for the kids.
“The facility is really nice,” he said. “They have so much for the kids to do. It’s nice to not see them on their phones.”
Keith Williams, executive director of NorthBay, said being out in nature can have a profound effect on the campers, many of whom are going through a very emotional time.
“We give kids a chance just to be kids,” he said. “A lot of them are shouldering very adult responsibilities.”
For some kids, Operation Purple also marks the first time they’ve been to a sleepaway camp. The Giordano sisters, Eva, 10, and Sierra, 11, from Alexandria, Va., were attending an Operation Purple Camp for the first time this week. Both said they enjoyed all the outdoor activities, especially fishing and tubing, as well the chance to meet other military kids.
“They’re all really nice,” Eva said.
“It’s fun,” Sierra agreed, “but also very hot.”
But for other kids, Operation Purple has become a regular summer tradition. Naomi Clarke, 12, from Fairfax, Va., has been to four Operation Purple camps, including three at NorthBay. Her mother has been in the Air Force for 21 years and Clarke said she enjoys going to the camps every year and making new friends.
“You get to meet a lot of new people with the same situation and hear stories,” she said.
Kids at Operation Purple Camp wave American flags as a military helicopter prepares to set down in a field at NorthBay Adventure Camp.
Sgt. Knight teaches kids about meals ready to eat, or MREs, as part of military experience day at Operation Purple Camp.
Kids brought in photos of their parents for a Wall of Honor in the NorthBay Adventure Camp dining hall as part of Operation Purple Camp.