HEIDELBERG, Germany - U.S. servicemembers stationed in Europe continue to support ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Department of Defense recently announced the 1st Armored Division and 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team are heading downrange in a few months. Meaning: the emotional rollercoaster families experience before, during and after a deployment rolls on.

To assist military children through these difficult times, Installation Management Command-Europe has been sponsoring a summer program, known as Camp A.R.M.Y. Challenge, since 2006.

This year nearly 150 CAC participants, whose parents are assigned to organizations scattered from England to Italy, had their choice of activities during a sports, fitness and culinary arts camp.

"CAC needs to be educational and entertaining," said Joe Marton, IMCOM-Europe's Child, Youth and School Services program specialist who serves as the action officer for the program. "Our goal is to give the kids a break from the stresses of having a parent serving in combat, along with providing a fun environment ... but one that also provides life skills."

For Rayshawn Clark, 15, Camp A.R.M.Y. Challenge - the acronym stands for Adventure, Resilience, Memories, Youth - offered specialized basketball instructions to help improve his game. But it wasn't the one-on-one drills that impressed him the most; it was team-building exercises.

"No one can win a game single-handedly ... or go through tough times by themselves, that's what the coaches and counselors stressed to us," said Clark, whose mother, Master Sgt. Margaret Miller, is stationed at U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr, Germany. "From those blindfolded drills I learned to listen and to trust someone who is guiding you."

While much of 2009 CAC focused on outdoor activities, numerous indoor educational sessions were held as well.

During the one-week camp, held in Bitburg, Germany, representatives from Military One Source and the Children's Financial Network gave classes on nutrition and finances, as well as career advice for the older youth.

Heather Axelrod, an executive assistant with CFN, delivered several presentations as fielding of the Army's "LIFE, Inc." program, which is sponsored by the Deloitte Foundation. The goal, she said, "is to have them think about positive possibilities ... to have them understand the importance of school now and how it relates long term ... and for us to provide tools needed to help them reach their dreams."

But for many children of U.S. troops, their biggest wish is to see mom or dad walk through the front door again - and for the worrying to go away.

In a recent Department of Defense release, Barbara Thompson, director of the Pentagon's Office of Family Policy/Children and Youth, said: "[We] recognize these multiple, long-term deployments are really tough on families."

Since the start of operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, nearly 2 million children have watched mom or dad leave. And about 234,000 of them have at least one parent currently deployed.

Last year, a survey provided to military spouses included questions regarding their sons and daughters. More than 29,000 responses reinforced anecdotal knowledge on the impact of deployments, Thompson said.

"It indicated that children were showing fear and anxiety," she explained. "Some were having behavioral issues."

And during recent testimony before a Senate Armed Services Committee subcommittee, Thompson added: "It was very clear spouses were concerned about the cumulative effects of deployments on their children."

For its part, IMCOM-Europe has supported more than 720 boys and girls with CAC residential camps during the past four years. Outings have included island and sailing adventures, "space" travel and city tours.

Additionally, specialty day camps - held on installations hit especially hard by deployments - hosted 1,100 military children in 2008.

Overall, the CAC curriculum is built around fitness and health, outdoor adventure, character education, team building and cultural exchanges. Plus social and life skills are introduced throughout the camps.

At Bitburg, for example, Christina Kruger of the IMCOM-Europe Region Library program highlighted various ways that academic success can be reached via current and emerging technology. And Military Family Life Consultants weaved targeted presentations throughout the camp. "They catered to each kid's own personal situation," Marton said.

Financial literacy and career exploration specialists participated this year as well, educating not only the young campers but garrison staff members as well.

And every CAC venue, including Bitburg, has employed the "Up With the Sun" work out since was initiated in 2007 as a sport, fitness and health initiative mimicking military PT time. Campers are outside by 6 a.m. for early-morning workouts, a habit Marton hopes they retain for life.

Initially surprised by Up With the Sun's popularity, Marton said its success convinced him that by giving youth a chance, they will take advantage of activities that some skeptics believe this generation doesn't take much interest in. "It is all about opportunity and choices," he said.

For instance, more than 40 teenagers and middle-schoolers participated in the 2009 CAC culinary arts program that focused on making proper food choices while preparing healthy snacks and meals. Basic kitchen skills - knife safety, ingredient selection, cooking techniques and recipe knowledge - were reviewed and practiced.

And the Army's Year of the Noncommissioned Officer campaign rang loudly during these cooking and baking sessions - with "astounding positive response from campers," said Marton, because of the gastronomic skills belonging to Sgt. 1st Class Howard Shakespear, a member of the 1-214th Aviation Regiment at USAG Mannheim, Germany.

A father of three, Shakespear has participated in operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Joint Endeavor, and Iraqi Freedom. During OIF he served on a military transition team as an advisor imbedded with the Iraqi army.

"With children of my own, I understand what these kids are undergoing," said Shakespear. "I've also experienced what many Soldiers are feeling downrange - missing their families and concerned about how a deployment impacts those at home."

Past IMCOM-Europe support of deployed Soldiers and their families included a 2007 and 2008 CAC environmental awareness program tagged "Island Adventure." Held on the remote North Sea community of Langeoog, the outing offered an extended-family atmosphere and daily community service projects aimed at protecting fragile dunes and beaches. The campers studied native German vegetation, as well as the impact of weather on the island and its delicate water supply.

In 2008, a highlight of the 2008 CAC Space Camp held in Transinne, Belgium, was the European Space Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station and IMCOM-Europe pulling together to connect young minds with astronaut Air Force Col. Mike Fincke - a veteran of the International Space Station.

The camp hosted nearly 30 youth operating a life-size replica of the space shuttle and a mission-control simulator, along with training on devices - such as a moonwalk and multi-axis chair - used in past and present space programs. Activities included overseeing a practice mission by using real procedures for launch, orbiting, satellite deployment, space station docking, atmosphere re-entry and landing.

The campers divided into mission teams, acting as flight commanders, weather officers, spacecraft systems operators, and launch and landing directors.

A "Tall Ship Experience" was offered as a component of CAC 2007. With almost 60 campers skimming the Baltic Sea, the crash-course sailors operated a topsail schooner built in 1919, measuring 170 feet long, 105 feet tall and covering 2, 799 square feet

"I will never forget the silence of this massive ship sailing on wind power," Marton said, "with our youth manning the helm."

As part of IMCOM-Europe CYS Services, Camp A.R.M.Y. Challenge is part of a youth empowerment process.

An example is Bitburg's culinary arts camp. Marton explained: "The kids said they needed help preparing meals at home; more meals were being left for them to cook. With Sgt. 1st Class Shakespear's expertise, we provided them positive life skills."

Since CAC began four years ago, every individual venue has been specifically designed to meet the needs of military teenagers and middle-schoolers, offering them a chance to meet and bond with others facing similar challenges

"Deployments can be very difficult for children, especially younger ones," Marton said. "This is one way for them to share and express their feelings with others."

Or as 14-year-old Daniell LaFleur, from U.S. Army Garrison Mannheim, put it: "We all understand what everyone here is going through. We can relate to how it feels about coming home after school everyday and knowing that your mom or dad isn't coming home that night."

(Additional information provided by IMCOM-Europe Child, Youth and School Services)

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16