By Maj. Gilbert BuentelloOctober 2, 2012
MANCHESTER, Md. -- Tucked away in the rolling hills of Maryland, several dozen Army Reserve children spent four days at the River Valley Ranch rock climbing, zip lining and doing other outdoor activities during Spring Break Camp 2012.
Sponsored by the 200th Military Police Command's Child and Youth School Serves and Operation Military Kids, the Army Reserve youth, ages 10 -- 17, were happy to spend time away from their parents and with other military youth.
Leslie McMillan, one of the nine girls participating in the camp, is no stranger to camps for military youth.
Last year, McMillan spent a week in New York, but said cooler temperatures limited campers' activities and she enjoyed the warmer Maryland weather.
The North Carolina native said her mother's busy work schedule can make her lonely at times.
"I don't really do anything at home, but here, I don't have to be inside all the time," she said. "I can go outside and do activities I don't do at home."
During the short week, campers engaged in a multitude of outdoor activities including a high-ropes course, a rock climbing tower, a giant swing, and a zip-line among other outdoor activities.
They also had the opportunity to meet three local Christian artists who not only performed their works but taught the children about expressing themselves in music and song-writing.
Although most youth were dropped off at the 200th Military Police Command headquarters in Fort Meade, Md., and smothered in hugs and kisses from two worried parents, several campers arrived with loved ones because their parents were deployed in harm's way overseas.
As the last youth loaded the bus and the chaperones did their final headcount, a small number of the youth reunited with old camp friends from the previous year. Quiet turned to controlled chaos as the bus pulled out of the parking lot and parents slowly returned to their cars for their drive home.
Javon Downs came to camp with his brother Mekhi -- five other pairs of youth would make the trip.
Down's aunt is currently deployed in Afghanistan.
"It's not that bad because we Skype each other a lot," he said. "Sometimes it's late at night. She only can do it then because her 11 p.m. is our eight in the morning."
Downs said he feels sad about his aunt's deployment, but he finds comfort in knowing his family will be throwing her a big party when she returns.
Between meeting new people and hanging out on the big swing, Downs said the song-writing sessions at camp were his favorite.
"I really like to rap, but I like to do it in front of people a lot," he said. "I like to perform my rapping, so that actually gave me a chance to do something I really like."
Outdoor Education Coordinator, Benjamin Ogden, said the ranch operates year-round hosting eight weeks of summer camps and retreats on the weekends.
"Our goal is to just serve people and to love people and to give them a great experience when they come," he said. "Whether they are here for a few hours on Saturday to hang out with their family or if they come here for a whole week,"
Ogden said the camp food even gets high marks from the temporary visitors.
"We don't want to serve what's traditionally called camp food, so our food service director does a lot of stuff from scratch and is very committed to healthy options," he said. "One of our goals here at the ranch is to provide an opportunity for a healthy lifestyle."
Eating healthy and living a healthy life style is a common theme of the camp.
"We are going to be taking a lot of hikes, doing stuff outdoors," Ogden said. "That carries over into the mealtimes. We want those mealtimes to be good food, healthy food, that's going to give people the fuel they need to do camp activities for the day."
Maj. Gen. Sanford Holman, commander of the 200th MPCOM and more than 13,000 Soldiers assigned to the Fort Meade, Md.,-based Army Reserve command, said family readiness is a top priority for his leadership team.
"We must include our children in our lives and communicate with them," he said. "One day, they will be our future leaders of this country and possible fill our ranks in this command. To give them these types of opportunities is important to me and my wife."
Holman said he encourages his extended military family to include their children in all Family Programs events.
"Empowering our children to live the same morals and values we do as Soldiers makes us the best fighting force in the world," he said. "We have the resources and tools in place to help our families -- let's use them."