FORT POLK, La. — It is well known that the U.S. Army trains Soldiers to grow into leadership roles, to continually prepare the stewards of future generations of noncommissioned officers and commissioned officers, alike. JRTC and Fort Polk’s Camp Warrior, however, begins instilling the tenets of teamwork and leadership (through fun activities) within the military dependent youths on the installation.
“Camp Warrior is a leadership camp. It allows eligible civilian and military youth from Fort Polk a rare opportunity to attend a residential camp where they’ll learn to work together in teams, not only with other youths, but with adults,” said John Stromberg, Youth Sports and Fitness director.
The camp, which runs two weeks each summer, is split by grades. Last week, kids in 4th through 6th grade enjoyed everything North Toledo Bend State Park has to offer, and next week (July 25-29) kids in the 6th through 12th grades will occupy the campsite.
Marie Avery, Youth Sports assistant, said the campers partake in several leadership- and comraderie-building exercises, such as archery, tug-of-war, canoeing, kayaking, paintball, hikes, surival-skill lessons and atlatl, which is akin to a large dart that is set and thrown from a cradle.
“Campers also get to enjoy pool time, eating contests, movie nights, arts and crafts, dodgeball, foursquare, cornhole, bonfires and s’mores and an opportunity to try different foods, such as edible bugs and liver,” she said.
Camp Warrior begins with the kids and their Families meeting at Fort Polk’s Youth Gym, where camp staff give a farewell speech to the parents, and then kids load onto a bus to head to North Toldeo Bend State Park, said Avery.
Upon arriving at the campsite, Avery said, kids unload their belongings from the bus, they are shown to either a female or male cabin, they pick their bunks and then set up their things.
“The first day is mostly focused on letting the kids get acclimated to the area,” she said.
“After campers have settled in, counselors will take the kids on a nature walk to show them the area.”
At the start of their first full camp day, Avery said kids are divided into teams for the week (either the Red or Blue Team), and they are given name tags, water bottles and backpacks, helping campers keep their things together as they switch between activities and camp locations.
“Each camp day begins with an hour of morning (physical training) for the campers, led by Soldiers that have volunteered to assist with Camp Warrior. We have a fitness group doing circuits, a running group and a walking group,” Avery said.
Some of the volunteer Soldiers are also the cooks preparing the “feasts” provided to the campers, said Avery.
“You’d be surprised at how many kids go up for seconds. It really is a lot of food, and they always enjoy what the Soldiers make for them.”
Throughout the week, kids are practicing different skill sets, helping them bolster their abilities, learn to work well within their teams and prepare for the culminating competition at the end of the week, she said.
“This competition is the kids’ favorite part of the camp; they are practicing and getting mentally prepared all week long,” Avery said.
In addition to all the physical activities, Avery said kids are visited by Fort Polk’s Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program representatives, who come to discuss the dangers of drugs and alcohol with the campers.
Members of Fort Polk’s Environmental team also come to teach the kids about insects and animals, and how to safely react to wildlife while outdoors. They also take the campers on a nature walk, teaching them how to spot poison ivy, and how to determine which plants are edible.
“Overall, the camp works on the kids’ leadership skills — it helps them move forward in life and learn how to collaborate with people in various situations,” Avery said.
Through fun (yet educational) events, campers learn to work together as a team and build lifelong friends in the process, Stromberg said.
“I think this camp gives many kids their first ‘away-from-home’ experience, while still giving their parents the reassurance they are in good hands with our staff and Soldier volunteers — it is a safe start to their independence.”
For more information about Camp Warrior, or if you’re interested in registering your 6th through 12th grade youth, please call the Parent Central Services building at (337) 531-6004.