JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Some believe to understand something, you have to experience it. For dozens of troops and Families of 555th Engineer Brigade, the statement could not be truer.

Fifty-six children, ages 5 to 12, participated in the brigade’s fourth annual deployment camp Aug. 4. The daylong camp sent children on a mock deployment " from start to finish.

Campers were divided into five groups representing five of the brigade’s battalions. Each child wore a hat and T-shirt indicative of their battalion, and each battalion had a guid-on.

After everyone registered in the morning, camp started with an enlistment and promotion ceremony. Children raised their right hands and swore an oath, just as their parents did when they enlisted.

Campers who participated in previous years were promoted above their peers, and were recognized for their commitment to the Army. After each battalion’s guid-on was cased, the campers learned the basics of drill and ceremony, taking turns marching and calling cadence.

No Army experience would be complete without physical fitness, so the campers’ strength and endurance were tested with a lesson in physical readiness training. Captain Karoline Hood, 555th Engr. Bde.

officer in charge of the camp, said she was impressed with the campers’ abilities and enthusiasm.

“Some of them are actually very physically fit,” she said, adding that occasionally the Soldier-platoon sergeants would randomly “drop” campers to do push-ups.

“It’s all in fun, and (the campers) know it,” Hood said. “They really seem to like it.”

Following PRT, campers tested their agility and teamwork skills on a child-friendly obstacle course consisting of water balloon grenades, balance beams and litter carries, then “deployed” by bus to the Danger Zone Paintball Range on Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s Lewis North.

Campers had an opportunity to fire one of three weapons, depending on the child’s age. Those 10 to 12 were permitted to fire paintball guns, while younger campers used Nerf guns and marshmallow guns. Every child received a weapons safety class as introduction to the M-16A2 rubber rifle.

Toward the end of the day, campers redeployed to Able Field, where they learned about each of the brigade’s battalions through static displays, then officially completed their deployments with a recognition ceremony, where each child received an award and joined a pizza party.

Clark Hoffman, 555th Engr. Bde. family readiness support assistant, said the camp was created as a way to give children a glimpse of what their parents do daily.

“I hope they get a better understanding of the Army life and understand more of what their parents have to go through, whether it be their normal day-to-day duties as a Soldier or in a deployment scenario,” Hoffman said.

Private Amanda Gonzalez, a chemical specialist with 62nd Chemical Company, 23rd Chemical Battalion, participated in the camp with her 6-year-old daughter.

Gonzalez said it was a good way for her daughter, Jalina, to see that the Army cares about Families while learning about teamwork.

“They get a little taste of the Army,” Amanda said. “The kids enjoyed it so it makes the parents happy.”

Laura M. Levering: