By By Spc. Lindsey M. BradfordAugust 22, 2008
FORT LEWIS, Wash. - It's tough for children to be away from their parents while they are serving tours overseas but on Aug. 14 and 15, children of Triple Nickel Soldiers were able to experience part of a deployment first-hand as part of the 555th Engineer Brigade Deployment Camp.
"The goal of this camp is to give the kids a little bit of experience with deployment; to see how their parents are living, eating and sleeping," said Capt. Jessica Forman, 555th Eng. Bde. operations officer. "We want to help put their mind at ease while their parents are away."
Forman explained that the planning for this event, a first for Fort Lewis children, began back in May with the help of key members throughout the brigade and each battalion's Family Readiness Support Assistant.
"We ended up having to turn some kids away because there was just such an overwhelming response," said Capt. Audrey Terry, 555th Eng. Bde. rear detachment Executive Officer.
During the planning phases, the team thought about 15 to 20 kids would take part but soon that number rose to over 50, which was the maximum number of slots the brigade had.
The first day of the kids 'deployment' started after they were broken into companies, based on age, and assigned a first sergeant and commander.
That morning, the 'Ripper recruits' were bused to their forward operating base, complete with tents, showering trailers and a makeshift dining facility, surrounded by the same High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles their parents would be using downrange.
Each company rotated throughout the FOB, curiously touching and climbing on everything they saw.
As lunch approached, each child was handed a Meal, Ready-to-Eat, and they wasted no time digging into the packaged food.
While some were pleased with the meal, others said they could do without.
"I had the chicken and salsa, and it was pretty good," said Noah Squires, 9, whose dad recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan.
After exploring the FOB and devouring their lunches, the kids were taken back to Triple Nickel's Able Field where battalions within the brigade set up booths to show the kids mission-essential equipment and answer any questions they had.
"This is really super fun," Tim Stringer, 11, screamed as he chased after the TALON robot belonging to the 110th Chemical Battalion (Technical Escort).
As the sun glared down on the kids, much like the heat their parents face in the Middle East, exhaustion kicked in. Ready to unwind from a very eventful first day of deployment, the young Soldiers were able to get some much needed rest and prepare for day two.
After a physical training session, the second day focused on trust and team building.
"We want to show them how to work as a team and how to rely on each other," said Forman.
All their hard work paid off at the end of their tour, as the kids were greeted at a welcome home ceremony. At the ceremony, they received medals for the hard work and deafening applause from the majority of the brigade's staff.
"It started out sluggish at first, but the turnout was outstanding," said Sgt. 1st Class Willie Wooten, Rear Detachment Non-commissioned officer-in-charge and commandant of the deployment camp.
Wooten said that because of the tremendous support within the brigade and from brigade sponsors, the camp will become an annual event.
"The parents were all for it. The kids loved it," Terry said.
Spc. Lindsey M. Bradford is assigned to the I Corps Public Affairs Office