DAYTON, Ohio -- "I'm from Florida, but I live in Kentucky," said 12-year-old Jasmine Mills, whose father is in the U.S. Army.
"I'm from Texas, but I live in Sandusky, " said Austin Gaul, 10, whose father is in the Coast Guard.
Mills and Gaul were among 18 campers aged 10 to 12 at the "Operation Purple" camp at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base during the first week of August. And their description of where they're from is common among military kids, whose lives are often disrupted as parents get transferred or deployed, said Theresa Ferrari, 4-H youth development specialist for Ohio State University Extension.
That's why the military is partnering with 4-H programs nationwide -- to help provide projects for family programs offered at bases and installations. The goal is to provide some stability for the children and teens participating in the programs.
"It gives the children some continuity," said Karen Kind, camp director for Camp Wright-Patt, the Operation Purple camp at the Dayton base, and the base's lead training and curriculum specialist for family member programs. "No matter where they go, 4-H is there." As a "4-H 101" trainer, Kind has traveled nationally as part of an Air Force/4-H team that trains military family services personnel in how to incorporate 4-H into their programs. Her last stop will be at a base in Germany, this fall; when that trip is completed, family services personnel at all U.S. Air Force bases worldwide will have undergone the 4-H training, she said.
In 2003, State 4-H Military Liaisons were named in each state to support the work that 4-H is doing with the U.S. Army Child and Youth Services and the U.S. Air Force Family Member Programs, as well as to reach out to the Army and Air National Guards and Reserve Units. Ferrari is Ohio's liaison and has been working with the air force base and the 4-H educators in the Ohio State University Extension offices in Greene and Montgomery counties to help organize programs offered there. The Army and the Air Force have made a commitment to establish 4-H clubs on installations worldwide.
Wright-Patterson has three 4-H clubs, one for the teenagers in "Open Rec" and two for younger children, said Necoleia Kahler, training and curriculum specialist at the base.
"They're not traditional 4-H clubs, which are usually more project-based," Kahler said. The clubs for the younger kids are broad-based; the 4-H'ers work on several different projects, according to their interests. The older kids in the base's Open Rec program were introduced to 4-H two years ago and have acted as advisers for the younger children. The teens started a horticulture club in the spring and will begin another club based on the youths' interests this fall, Kahler said. One of the participants is exhibiting a horticulture project at the county fair this summer.
Now, the program is extending beyond the perimeter of the bases and extending everywhere military kids might be.
"W'e're reaching out to children of parents who are in the National Guard and Reserves," Ferrari said. "But it's hard to get a handle on it because they're everywhere." And with recent far-reaching deployments of Guard and Reserve personnel, many families find themselves in a category commonly termed "suddenly military."
"These are families in which a parent might spend one weekend a month and two weeks every summer in training, but the rest of the time, they don't really consider themselves 'military families,'" Ferrari said. "When these parents are deployed, it puts stress on the children and stress on the whole family." And often, these kids are the only ones in their school or neighborhood with a parent called to active duty, she said. That isolation makes the situation even harder.
That's where Operation Purple comes in, Kind said. Sponsored by the National Military Families Association and the Sears American Dream Campaign, the weeklong camps' goal is to provide support for children of parents who are, have been, or about to be deployed overseas. "Purple" is used in reference to programs that involve all the branches of the military.
This summer, three such camps with a total of 60 campers took place at Wright-Patterson.
"Part of what we do is try to get the children to understand what happens to their parents when they're activated or deployed," Kind said. "It reduces their stress level when they know what their parents go through." So, when the campers first arrive on base, they go through a deployment line in which their papers are confirmed, emergency contacts are verified, and other details are checked out. A commander motivates the campers with a "pump up the troops" speech, and an intelligence officer cautions them to be careful regarding who they speak with and what they say about military matters. A chaplain talks to them about religious beliefs in the area of deployment. "It's all very similar to their parent's deployment," Kind said.
Camp Wright-Patt offers 4-H components such as rocketry and citizenship much like at 4-H's summer camps. On the Tuesday morning of the August camp, Ohio 4-H specialist Bob Horton helped the kids make several types of model rockets, which the youths set off near the base's Bass Lake. He also coordinated a live video hook-up with NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, in which the center's Distance Learning Outpost offered an interactive session on Space Basics 101. To top it off, Operation Purple's official spokesperson, former prisoner of war Jessica Lynch, was on hand to talk with the campers, sign autographs, and promote the Operation Purple camps.
Lynch said Operation Purple is a natural for her. "I wanted to do something to help military children, and this program involves kids from all the different branches," said Lynch, who has started her own foundation. "My best friend (Lori Piestewa) was killed in the ambush where I was captured, and she left behind two children," Lynch said. "I can't do much, but I want to do what I can."
Camper Brant Fowle from Tipp City enjoyed the morning rocketry/space session. "My rocket went 362 feet. That's a new record," he said, hoping to be able to retrieve the model from the shores of Bass Lake later in the day. His father is in an Air Force Reserves air evacuation unit attached to Wright Patt. Fowle said he hopes to be an Air Force pilot some day.