<b>CHAMPIONS GATE, Fla. </b>Aca,!" Water slides, kickball, lazy-river inner tube excursions and the near perfect weather were just a few select menu items available for youth of all ages attending a recent Army Reserve weekend getaway.

From toddlers taking midday naps in the comforting arms of a volunteer, to a quick round of bingo between new-found friends, the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program staff learns to make the next event better.

Aca,!A"We want to ensure we provide the best environment for these children while their parents are learning how to reintegrate as a family after a long deployment overseas,Aca,!A? said Christy Burns, the 81st Regional Support CommandAca,!a,,cs family programs manager.

As Lyndsay Ogden, a resort staff member, covered four-year olds Daniel Torres and Kayla Ross with high-rated sun block, other Yellow Ribbon staff lined up other three- to five-year-olds for a short walk to the Aca,!A"beachAca,!A? and water park.

After a quick swimsuit change, with numerous sand toys and towels at the ready, the childrenAca,!a,,cs over excitement was clearly visible as they entered the resortAca,!a,,cs pool and beach area.

Aca,!A"Can we play in the water,Aca,!A? they all asked the staff while jumping up and down.
As the little ones quickly discarded any shoes and remaining shirts, one five-year old, in his over-energized mindset, forgot to take his socks off as he inched closer to the water park.

Aca,!A"Daniel, you have to take your socks off before you get in the water,Aca,!A? Ogden said laughing. Aca,!A"Look, now you have wet socks and your parents are going to kill us.Aca,!A?

Aca,!A"No they wonAca,!a,,ct,Aca,!A? Torres said rolling his eyes. Aca,!A"I do this all the time.Aca,!A?

From the pool, to the beach, to a small resort created for little ones, the staff was busy ensuring the children were safe and not wondering about anything but having fun.

Inside, it was the business of learning about better communication skills, dealing with post-deployment stress and dozens of other topics for Soldiers and their spouses.

Outside the conference rooms, children and youth were busy making new friends and talking about what their mother or father does in the Army Reserve. Aca,!A"They get to make friends and set up relationships with other children their age going through the same situations,Aca,!A? Burns said.

In addition to the fun-packed days, Yellow Ribbon family-life consultants were able to visit with youth of all ages and talk about their personal experiences during the deployment, she said.

Burns said this weekend wasnAca,!a,,ct just about the big people, but more importantly, about the children who stayed behind and the roles they played in their fractured families during the scheduled deployments.

Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs really important for them to set up relationships with other youth, and when they come back, theyAca,!a,,cll get to see their new friends and make more new friends,Aca,!A? Burns said about the importance of Soldiers bringing their children to the events.

She laughed, and said the children here will have their own little Army Reserve family reunion when they return for the next Yellow Ribbon workshop.

Aca,!A"You have to love these young heroes,Aca,!A? Burns said. Aca,!A"They are our future and really are an important part of the support system for the Soldiers deployed.Aca,!A?

One of those tiny heroes was Emerald Wilson, daughter of Chief Warrant Officer Terrance Wilson, assigned to the 311th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, in California. She said her father recently returned from overseas helping people who need it.

Aca,!A"My dad is a hero, but this weekend was about me,Aca,!A? she said smiling. Aca,!A"I like that he was helping people in Iraq, but not that he was gone for so long. So itAca,!a,,cs good he brought me here to Florida.Aca,!A?

Wilson said coming to the event was more fun that she expected.

Aca,!A"I was excited to know we were coming to Orlando,Aca,!A? she said. Aca,!A"I now have a new friend, Emilie, which makes it even better.Aca,!A?

As Emerald and Emilie quickly disappeared into a competitive game of kickball, the smiles, hugs and laughter were a sure sign that both girls molded a new friendship to share the next time they meet.

The senior enlisted Soldier for the 81st RSC, Command Sgt. Maj. Luis Blanco, said there is a good reason why the Army Reserve encourages Soldiers to bring their families to these types of events.

Aca,!A"First and foremost, this is a family event,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"They talk to other children with the same issues. They all have one thing in common Aca,!" they had one or more parents gone overseas fighting a war against terror.Aca,!A?

Blanco said children of all ages take a deployment hard. Aca,!A"When they are able to talk to someone their age that just went through the same situation, it really brings everything together,Aca,!A? he said.

Whether the children and youth were lost in a game of bingo, playing video games or just having a small imaginary sword fight between new friends, Burns said she hopes the Army ReserveAca,!a,,cs newest family members walk away knowing people do care.

Aca,!A"The Army Reserve has made it important to recognize children and youth who have stayed behind and supported mom and dad while they are gone,Aca,!A? she said. Aca,!A"We need to let them know that they are important, and they played an important role for the Soldier deployed.Aca,!A?

Small arms filled with art projects, bodies covered with sand and smelling of chlorinated pool water, and quality time with parentsAca,!"all part of a successful reintegration weekend.

Aca,!A"Mom and dad, do we really have to leave,Aca,!A? asked one young girl as she hugged a new friend.

Aca,!A"We will see her next time,Aca,!A? the father said. Aca,!A"I promise.Aca,!A?

Page last updated Mon June 15th, 2009 at 13:23