ELK NECK STATE PARK, Md. -- Addressing the theme "Kids Serve Too," APG Garrison's senior enlisted advisor focused on the importance of family as he talked to 150 sons and daughters of American servicemembers taking part in a summer camp sponsored by the National Military Family Association here Aug. 25.

As Command Sgt. Maj. Rodney Rhoades stood center stage in the camp theater, "Jody Calls" and the sounds of marching feet greeted the campers --- aged 7 to 17 -- as they entered. The mood shifted as Lee Greenwood's "Proud to be an American" struck a patriotic chord.

This was "military day" at the camp.

"I'm excited to be here," Rhoades said as the campers settled into a tight semi-circle in front of him.

"My first day in the Army I was put in a 'cattle car,' Rhoades began. "I was squished between men and women I had never met. That's how the Army gets you to know your buddies real quick."

Rhoades quickly taught the group to respond to general questions with the common Army expression "Hooah!"

"What does it mean?" he asked, drawing puzzled looks and a few seconds of silence. "It means, 'I absolute agree with you, Sergeant Major.'"

For the next 20 minutes, Rhoades led the campers on a tour of the Army's roots, tested their knowledge of American history and led a question and answer session about the dynamics of deployment where no subject was off limits.

Rhoades wanted to hear what the campers had to say.

"How many of you are proud to be an American?" he asked.

"Hooah!" the campers yelled in unison.

"There's no job in this country that I could be more proud to have," Rhoades said, developing a warm bond with his audience. He closely identified with them when discussed his own family.

"I have a son serving in Iraq," he said. "He finished three years of college and said, 'Dad, I want to be in the Army.' I said, 'Fine. Finish college.' Then he said, 'No, Dad. I want to join the Army. I want to do something different.

"From the time he was three years old, my son was destined to be a Soldier," Rhoades explained. "When he stepped into my boots and his mom took his picture while I was deployed overseas, he became a Soldier. He was part of our Army. He was part of the larger Army Family.

"How many of you feel like you're part of a larger family?" Rhoades asked the campers.

"Hooah!" came the reply.

"You know, hugs with your mother and father are a special moment. How many of you miss that hug when one of your parents is deployed? How many of you believe that your parents actually miss that hug, too?

"They do. More than you will ever realize," he said.

"When I deployed to Operation Desert Storm, I went through a stage when I couldn't call my family for about three months. I found that very challenging because I missed my son and my wife, just like you miss your parents. So, the anxieties and the challenges of your parents are very much the same as yours.

"Where do you think your parents get their strength?" he asked. "From you - absolutely.

"Every time I've deployed, my strength has truly come from my son and my wife. So you are serving your nation with pride.

"Being a military child, you have to be stronger than the average child. I truly think so," Rhoades said.

"And that means you have to find a way to vent, to communicate, open up and talk to people whenever you need to. It's important that you realize you are surrounded by a larger family and that there are those you can talk to," Rhoades said, reinforcing an Operation Purple message consistently delivered during the camp.

The NMFA's Operation Purple Program empowers military children and their families to develop and maintain healthy and connected relationships. The free summer camp program was developed to support military children dealing with the stress of war.

This is the eighth summer of Operation Purple camps that host children for 40 weeks of camp in 25 states as well as in Japan. The program was created in 2004 in response to parent's call to "help us help our kids."

Operation Purple camps are a time for having fun, making friends, and reminding military kids that they are the Nation's youngest heroes.

The program is joint or "purple"-- and open to children and families of active duty, National Guard or Reserve service members from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, or the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service and NOAA.

Members of the Maryland National Guard joined the camp on military day, displaying a Buffalo vehicle and lending their support to counselors during recreational activities. A warm rain limited most of these activities to the open-air gymnasium at the North Park camp complex.

Members of AmeriCorps, young men and women aged 18 to 24, also augmented Operation Purple camp counselors during the week.