By by Colleen Machado, Courier staffJuly 24, 2009
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. - "My favorite part of camp is knowing people understand how I feel," one camper said.
"Mine is knowing that all of you are going through the same thing, even if we're not going through it the same way," another camper said.
The leather string went around the circle and each piece that was cut symbolized a memory that would live long after the Good Grief Camp was over.
Fort Campbell hosted the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors Good Grief Camp-Out this weekend. The TAPS program provides a source of comfort, peer support and information to help survivors heal.
This was the first overnight Good Grief Camp in the nation, according to camp director Tina Barrett. "The plan is for it to be an annual camp."
The Good Grief Camp is designed for children that have experienced the loss of a loved in the military and helping them realize they are not alone.
Twelve children from Fort Campbell camped out for the weekend at Camp Hinsch, an old Ranger camp on Fort Campbell.
"Camp Hinsch is not usually a kid camp, but we've turned it into one," said Shirley West, director of Fort Campbell Armed Services YMCA.
The campers stayed in gender separated cabins painted in camouflage colors.
"This is a blend of time to have fun and time to honor and remember," Barrett said. "We had campfires and traditional camping activities along with activities to honor their loved ones."
The campers made flags of honor, in memory of their fallen hero, to display in their cabins. They also wore name tags with pictures of their Soldier.
"We did fallen leaves for fallen heroes," Barrett said. "The kids wrote messages to their loved ones on leaves and put them into the fire."
The camp offers the opportunity for kids to be around others that will talk and share their stories and memories.
Other activities for the weekend included a talent show, fishing, games and time to just talk.
"Kids can spontaneously share their stories," Barrett said.
The campers ranged in age from 7- to 16-years-old. Each child was paired with their own mentor for the duration of the camp.
Specialist Jon Miller, volunteer mentor, said the kids bring him out to these camps. "I've done lots of camps before I joined the Army," he said. Miller had volunteered for the Green Camp also, but had a surprise when he volunteered for Good Grief.
"It's kind of weird. The kid that I'm mentoring is the son of one of my pilots that crashed," Miller said. "I enjoyed meeting the children of a friend of mine."
For brother and sister, Cameron Dostie, 12, and Bayleigh Dostie, 9, Good Grief camps have become permanent in their lives. They have been to several other grief camps following the loss of their father, Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Dostie, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
The career Soldier was killed on Dec. 30, 2005, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee during patrol operations in Baghdad.
"I like the camps because everyone shares the same loss," Cameron said. "Sharing my experience with other kids makes me feel better."
Bayleigh held a picture of her dad close as she remembered funny stories about him. "He used to dance in his underwear," she said with a smile. "He was a great guy."
In the picture, taken just six days before Dostie was killed, he was holding up a picture of Bayleigh that she had sent him for Christmas.
Cameron recalled his father as a man who was a boy inside, but a man at work. "He was playful, but when it was time to get serious, he did." Cameron said. "He said before he left for Iraq that he was going to make sure every Soldier came back safe, and they did."
The camp was a part of their lives for a weekend, but the Dostie siblings will keep their experiences for a lifetime.
"Next year I want to be a mentor," Cameron said. He also plans on going to college in Illinois, where his father attended.
"I want to be a TAPS counselor when I grow up," Bayleigh said.