A small group of Soldiers from the 101st Sustainment Brigade "Lifeliners" volunteered for an important mission. This mission requires them to agree to lock up their cars and cell phones. They must break contact with their friends and families. For a week, they will live in modest cabins filled with other people at Camp Hinsch near Fort Campbell and cannot leave. Yet, they are enjoying every minute of it.
The mission is being camp counselors for the Fort Campbell Survivor's Outreach Services Camp SOS where they work with children who have lost a parent in the line of duty. It's a no fail mission and it has one major objective -- make sure the kids have fun.
"I've been smiling since I came in," said Spc. Raven Clark, one of the volunteers from the Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 129th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 101st Sustainment Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). This is her first time at summer camp and she says it's been a great experience.
Half way through the camp, she said that they have already taken the campers bowling and went to a water park. The counselors also took the kids fishing and had plans to take everyone to Chattanooga, Tenn. to visit the Tennessee Aquarium.
"Monday we went bowling," she said with a chuckle. "I'm really not good at Bowling. The kids beat me!"
However, since the kids were having fun it was worth it to her she said.
There are 20 campers between the ages of 7 through 13 at the camp. Ten have attended the camp before and ten are attending for the first time according to Suzy Yates, Survivor Outreach Services support coordinator.
The campers and counselors are on five different teams, red, blue, orange, green, and yellow. They have daily team challenges, the counselors play different games with the kids at scheduled times during the day, and everyone has some free time before turning in for the night where both camper and counselor gets a chance to learn more about each other. However, both campers and counselors stay flexible and adjust to any changes without issue said Clark.
Another volunteer Pvt. Matthew Watson, from the 372nd Inland Cargo Transfer Company, 129th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 101st Sustainment Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), is also attending summer camp for the first time. He loved the different challenges the teams compete in.
"I like the team challenges, it keeps the morale high," said Watson. "It's kind of like I'm reliving my childhood right now."
As a counselor he looks after the kids, guides them, makes sure they respect each other and ensures everyone has fun. He volunteered in part because he has six nieces and nephews and he thought this would be a good experience. He said that while it makes him miss his family it's also helped him be more open and outgoing. He said that it has also made him more alert because he has a responsibility to keep the campers safe.
Each counselor has an assigned camper. Watson's camper is Hunter Denileon, 12, who like Watson and Clark is also at summer camp for the first time. He says that he's been having a great time and that the water park was his favorite part of camp.
"They had two big slides that I really enjoyed," said Hunter. "One was a raft slide and the other was a body slide."
Although the camp has a military and family life consultant on site providing support, both counselors agreed that the children were having a great time and that it was hard to tell that these children had lost a loved one. Clark said that the entire experience had touched her.
"A smile on the kids face made me light up," she said. "I like to see them happy to help them with their loss."
Shirley West, Director of Armed Services YMCA at Fort Campbell, said that Camp SOS is unique amongst summer camps on Army installations. It is the only camp that focuses on having fun. She commended the camp counselors.
"We have had some very amazing counselors that have helped us to get in there, work with these kids and they can relate to them," said West. "One of the things kids remember is their counselor and that's what I try to instill in these counselors, make sure you're a kid. Be a kid with them."
Although a grant from Newman's Own Foundation helps to fund the camp, West said a number of businesses and the surrounding communities have been "awesome" in supporting the camp. She also thanked Fort Campbell for all it's done.
"We appreciate the people who made it possible, we appreciate the installation for their support and the units for helping us by providing and allowing the Soldiers to come help us," said West. "If we didn't have their support…we couldn't do what we do."
The children's smiles and laughter demonstrates that these Soldiers are accomplishing their mission. The counselors were glad to be a part of Camp SOS and both were hopeful that they could be part of Camp SOS next year.
"It's a very good experience for me," said Clark. "I would love to do this again."