Land­ing new friends

Op­er­a­tion Pur­ple Camp helps mil­i­tary kids con­nect

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By JES­SICA IANNETTA

jian­netta@ce­cil­whig.com

— 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

NORTH EAST

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.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JES­SICA IANNETTA

Kids at Op­er­a­tion Pur­ple Camp wave Amer­i­can flags as a mil­i­tary heli­copter pre­pares to set down in a field at NorthBay Ad­ven­ture Camp.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JES­SICA IANNETTA

Sgt. Knight teaches kids about meals ready to eat, or MREs, as part of mil­i­tary ex­pe­ri­ence day at Op­er­a­tion Pur­ple Camp.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JES­SICA IANNETTA

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JES­SICA IANNETTA

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.

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