Children of deployed troops attend sports, fitness camp
June 25, 2008
BITBURG, Germany - When children of deployed Soldiers get together, there's no need for them to dwell on having a parent serving downrange - every kid is experiencing the same rollercoaster of emotions.
"You don't have to say it aloud," said Yiechia Warren, 18-year-old daughter of Sgt. 1st Class Clifford Warren, who recently returned from a deployment with the 66th Transportation Company from Kaiserslautern, Germany.
According to recent National Military Family Association figures, some 155,000 children are coping with having a deployed parent - and in some cases both parents.
To help guide these children through difficult times, Installation Management Command-Europe is offering Camp A.R.M.Y Challenge, a summer program for sixth- through 12th-graders.
The first portion of the program kicked off in Germany June 16-21 with a sports and fitness camp at Sportschule Bitburg, which is located on a former U.S. air base. In fact, the headquarters for an inactivated 36th Fighter Wing still bears the unit's patch - more than a decade after closure - and lodging facilities, now a civilian hotel, are adorned with murals of American icons such as Marilyn Monroe and Neil Armstrong.
But for 79 kids who enjoyed a week of individualized instruction from coaches and trainers, along with trying outdoor adventures such as canoeing and wall climbing, the focus was on the here and now, not of nearby history.
And the emphasis was squarely on educational fun for the group who came from military installations scattered from Belgium to Italy.
For example, Dylan Smith, whose father is deployed to Iraq, shuffled between cones placed on one of the school's six soccer fields, listening to words of encouragement from participating members of the U.S. Olympic Development Program.
Smith, 15, who plays for Baumholder High School, welcomed the sharp coaching needed to help elevate his game. "I've done a lot better here than in past camps," said the high-school junior. "The instructors really push fundamentals."
At the same time, he added, "they encourage you to have fun, to loosen up, to not be so hard on yourself."
Standing off to the side, Keith Tabatznik praised every child as they completed drills meant to improve their skill levels, which, admittedly, were basic for some. But for Tabatznik, who coached the University of Georgetown team for 22 years, the emphasis isn't on developing star players; his philosophy mirrored that of Camp A.R.M.Y Challenge's goal for each child: learn from life lessons and build teamwork.
"Scoring the winning goal in a game is great, but how you deal with difficulties, especially when attempting something for the first time, is just as important," said Tabatznik, who also served as head coach of the U.S. national amateur team.
Accordingly, Tabatznik stressed that self-improvement is important, but so is "bettering others around you, whether that be in sports or life in general."
Eighth-grader Roscoe Johnson praised the patient tutelage of Tabatznik and his fellow ODP members, along with several coaches from Department of Defense Dependent Schools who held basketball and weight-lifting clinics. Plus there were roughly 10 college-age counselors on hand, working for Child and Youth Services during summer break.
"It's been cool, amazing actually," said Johnson, whose father is assigned to Wiesbaden and is currently serving in Kuwait. "Staying at home during the summer and doing nothing is a drag. The coaches and counselors really show an interest in you as a person while helping you to become a better player."
At the same time, the ODP crew, throughout the week, gleaned the spirit of a community unfamiliar to them before coming to Bitburg.
Tabatznik said he came away impressed with an ingrained, unsaid support that connects military children.
"They have something inside that puts them miles ahead of other kids when it comes to handling diversity," he said. "Even though they are strangers, they act as if they have known each other for years when thrown together."
Fellow instructor Eric Teepe agreed, saying, "It's a whole other world they experience," referring to the life of a military child.
"I had one boy tell me at lunch that he's moved six times - and he's 10 years old," said Teepe, the women's soccer coach for Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y. "We always hear about the struggles of Soldiers in wartime, but we never see the other side of it, how the children have to deal with it as well."
The sports camp is one of three road activities that compose Camp A.R.M.Y Challenge - the acronym stands for adventure, resilience, memories, youth - with an island venture being held in July and a space camp planned for August. Other week-long CYS camps are being held at garrisons heavily impacted by a tempo that isn't lessening for those carrying the heaviest burden of an ongoing war - U.S. servicemembers and their families.
Though the camps are primarily meant for Army families, the children of deployed troops from other services are eligible to take part as well.
During the program, counselors aim at improving the mind, body and soul, said Joe Marton, director of Camp A.R.M.Y Challenge, explaining: "The mind as having the knowledge and interest in making the right decisions in life; the body as in learning how to remain healthy throughout your life; and soul as being an active part of society throughout one's life."
Marton hopes this mindset stretches far beyond the six days of camp. It's an aptitude, he believes, that can be used throughout adulthood.
For many of the children, those traits, while not refined, are already evident.
"What stands out is a core value they all seem to share," said Brad Murphree, boys' soccer coach at Westhampton Middle School in New York. "They question whether they can do something for the first time - such as when they crossed the cable bridge - but they don't shy away from the challenge. There's such a sense of resiliency in them."