By Ray JohnsonAugust 15, 2007
LANGEOOG, Germany - There's something about summer and kids that go together. It's a time when kids can be, well, kids.
It's also a time when life-long memories are formed, like old photographs that never fade. It's a time of care-free fun that people yearn for as they age. And it's a time of adventure experienced for the first time - as seen through young, bright eyes.
That certainly was true for 80 U.S. military children during a week-long stay on this speck of an island located in the North Sea.
The sixth- through eighth-graders participated in the last segment of Camp A.R.M.Y Challenge, a three-part Installation Management Command-Europe program designed specifically for sons and daughters of deployed servicemembers or those who have recently returned from downrange or will be heading there soon.
CAC offers young participants a break from the family stresses of deployment, along with a chance to meet others facing challenges associated with having a parent away, said Joe Marton, IMCOM-Europe's child and youth services specialist.
"This can be a very difficult time for some," Marton said. "These camps are a way for these children to spend time with others who are experiencing the same situation, and to share and express their feelings."
Plus, he added, CAC provides life-learning opportunities in diverse settings, such as Langeoog, an L-shaped island roughly 9-miles long at its widest part, where environmental awareness is a necessity for a full-time population of 2,000 people that easily triples during the vacation season.
But simply getting in and around there requires a cornucopia of transportation.
Arriving by bus from installations scattered throughout Europe, from England to Italy, the campers and almost 20 counselors first reached the harbor town of Bensereiel to catch a 30-minute ferry ride to Langeoog, one of seven inhabited East Frisian islands in Germany's Lower Saxony region. Once there, they hopped a train for a quick five-minute trip to a postcard-pretty town center, where bicycles awaited them as no gas-powered vehicles are allowed.
Walking their bikes along cafAfA-lined sidewalks, the 100-member parade began pedaling once they reached the village's outskirts, following a cobblestone road to a youth hostel roughly two miles - and a world away from everyday concerns.
Located on a patch of land resembling coastal Scotland, the dormitory style building is surrounded by sands dunes on one side and hay fields on the other, with the North Sea just a half-mile hike away. Each morning, with the sun barely peaking though gray clouds, 20 assigned campers - and an equal number of group volunteers - combed nearby beaches for trash, beginning a day of environmental awareness in a place where conserving nature means preserving a way of life that hasn't changed much in almost 380 years.
Throughout the week, other environmental awareness opportunities included:
Watten safarie - literally, a water safari around the island in a cuddy-sized boat serving as a floating classroom;
Wattwanderung - a guided tour to study marine life found along the dark, gooey beach area left behind when the tide rolls out to sea;
Inselfuehrung am wasserturm - a tour of the island's landmark water tower and other parts of the city, which dates back to the 17th century.
"What we tried to show," said Marton, "is how fragile the environment is and how we can help to protect it - together. The island's inhabitants depend on each other to ensure Langeoog remains livable, especially when it comes to preserving the availability of fresh water.
"The kids can apply this mind set - the supporting of each other - back home."
(Ray Johnson is a member of the IMCOM-Europe Public Affairs Office)