Operation Purple Camp

This fall, millions of American children returned to school after a carefree summer break with family. Each year, the National Military Family Association sends children separated from their deployed parents to camp for a different type of break–one from the worries of war. These fun-filled Operation Purple Camps are meant to help the kids through a stressful time and honor their sacrifice.

Serving the children who serve our country

The association created the program in 2004 in response to parents’ requests to “help us help our kids.” The program began with 12 camps serving 1,000 military kids, and has grown to 68 camp locations nationwide in summer 2010. By the end of the summer, the association estimated that it sent 40,000 deserving military kids to a free week of camp.

The theme of the camp–“Kids Serve Too!”–is an opportunity to recognize kids for their service, to honor their service-member parent, and for them to be proud of themselves and their peers. Military children often take on extra responsibilities at home when a parent is deployed, and camp provides a memorable week of fun for our nation’s youngest heroes. It also gives kids the chance to meet other military children going through the same experiences. Nearly 85 percent of military youth do not attend Department of Defense schools, and only about 35 percent of active-duty military families actually live in military housing. Many Operation Purple campers have never met other military children, which makes their camp experience special.

Core Values And Curriculum

The camp has a unique curriculum that host camps are required to integrate into their regular programming. The structure of the program allows each facility that hosts a week of the camp to highlight their strengths and popular activities while focusing on the specific needs of military children.

Deb Waz, Director of Programs at Crow’s Neck Environmental Education & Conference Center in Mississippi, which has held five weeks of Operation Purple Camp over the last three years, found it easy to integrate the curriculum:

“[It] is a seamless fit with our outdoor and environmental education program curriculum. In fact, there are many items in the curriculum that we’ve been doing for years,” she says.

“For almost every element in the … curriculum, we had a program or activity in place that could be easily adapted to fit the unique needs of the … program. [It] makes it easy because there is no trouble defining the unique characteristics of the audience–they’re all military kids!

The required components of the camp focus on ideas like pride, communication, stewardship and environmental education. A Wall of Honor activity allows campers to proudly display their parent’s photo. Nightly journaling or letter-writing builds communication skills, and a community-service project teaches campers stewardship of their community.

Family Atmosphere

However, Waz noticed several differences in the campers during the season:

“It can be hard to put a finger on exactly what that difference is, but the air is different. With their shared personal experiences, campers bond with each other faster,” she says. “They also bond with our counselors faster and stronger.”

She adds: “Campers seem to really get into the family atmosphere we strive hard to create. By the middle of the week, you can see older campers helping younger ones clear lunch trays, tie shoes, and find water bottles. You can also see them hanging out and playing together. Our oldest group of boys helped teach our youngest to canoe, and then spent over an hour ‘throwing’ the younger ones across the top of the water in the swimming area. You could hear the ‘me next’ screeches for miles! We don’t typically see the oldest ones choosing to pay so much attention to the little ones.”

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