Sierra Club a camp booster: Donation to aid children in military families

the Atlanta Journal Constitution – April 27, 2007
By Gerry Smith

Sierra Club a camp booster: Donation to aid children in military families

Sierra Club a camp booster: Donation to aid military children
GERRY SMITH

Washington --- For one week this summer, children will kayak along the Broad River, learn the history of the Cherokee Indians and roast marshmallows with other children who know what it feels like to have a parent in the military.

The 55 campers in Danielsville will participate in "Operation Purple" --- a free summer program that hosts 3,500 military children at 34 camps in 26 states, including two in Georgia. "If not for this experience, they may not be able to go to camp, sometimes because they can't afford it," said Pamela McBride, the program manager for the Army Reserve Child and Youth Services.

On Thursday, the Sierra Club announced it will donate more than $1 million to send an additional 1,000 military children to Operation Purple camps across the country.

Founded by the National Military Family Association, the program is aimed at helping children cope with being separated from parents deployed overseas.

The association also has received funding from Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computers, and has created a new camp this year for children with parents who have been wounded.

The camp in Danielsville, located on 160 acres along the Broad River in northeast Georgia, hosts children ages 9 to 14 from July 22 to 28. Operation Purple also has a camp site at Fort Benning for children ages 12 to 18 from June 17 to 24.

McBride said the camp is particularly beneficial for children with parents in the Army Reserve, who rarely interact with other military children because they often don't live near military bases.

"They really benefit from being around other children who are going through the same type of things," McBride said. "Often times, they feel like they're the only ones in the world."

A study by the California Department of Education found that students who attended the weeklong outdoor retreat demonstrated a 27 percent increase in science test scores.

McBride said the camp also serves as a respite for parents pulling double-duty for their military spouses.

"It gives them a chance to regroup and renew their strength so they can better help their own families," she said.

About 220,000 U.S. children have a parent deployed somewhere around the world, according to the Defense Department. And as Operation Purple enters its fourth year, military families are bracing for lengthened tours of duty.

The Army recently announced it will extend active-duty deployments by three months and National Guard units are preparing for second deployments on an accelerated timetable.

The announcements drew criticism from lawmakers who questioned whether the military might be stretched to its breaking point.

But at a Senate hearing this month, Joyce Wessel Raezer, chief operating officer of the NMFA, reminded lawmakers that when they discuss military readiness, they should not overlook military families.

"Perhaps none is as important as the belief that the family will be taken care of while the service member is supporting the mission and defending the nation," she said.