Grafenwöhr camp aims to expand support network
June 20, 2006
GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — One of three European summer camps for children of troops deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places around the world began here on Sunday.
Thirty-six high school students from European military communities are participating in Camp Army Challenge at Grafenwöhr. A total of 160 middle school kids signed up for camps at Camp Darby, Italy, next month.
Grafenwöhr camp director Becky Witcher, 22, of Olympia, Wash., said the Installation Management Agency-Europe initiated Camp Army Challenge specially for deployed troops’ children.
Seventeen counselors from the Camp Adventure program, which also is running this year at military communities worldwide, are involved in the Grafenwöhr camp, she said.
Grafenwöhr’s other camp director, Melody Vance Taylor, 49, of Mattapony, Va., said the camp would teach kids ways to cope while one of their parents is away.
“It will help them develop a broader support system among other youth who are experiencing a family member downrange. Not only are they developing a broader support system, they are learning ways to cope better through the experience,” Taylor said.
The camp’s high-risk activities, such as rock climbing, were one way to teach the children life skills, she said.
The camp also will give the kids an insight into life in the military. For example, a sergeant will visit the camp to demonstrate military robots that can be used to search buildings or defuse bombs. And the campers will learn to navigate using global positioning systems, she said.
The camp also features swimming, canoeing, team building exercises, a public service camp beautification project and an adventure race, she said.
Counselor Meg Herman, 20, of San Diego, said she was looking forward to spending time with military kids.
“I just want them to learn something new and know there is support for them,” she said.
The first kid to show up at Grafenwöhr on Sunday was Vilseck Middle and High School student Mercedes McLaughlin, 16. Her father, Staff Sgt. Heath McLaughlin, has been in Iraq on his second tour but recently came home on leave, she said.
McLaughlin said her father, who works at the Joint Multinational Training Command, was stressed during his leave because of all the changes that had happened at work while he was away, such as the arrival of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment at Vilseck.
Life is harder without her father at home, she said.
“There is no father figure. No one to enforce rules as much,” she said.
Another camper, Carlos Garnica, 15, of Würzburg American High School, said his father is preparing to go to Iraq with his unit — 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment — later this year.
The teen said he is not looking forward to another year’s separation from his father, who was in Iraq in 2003.
Not only would he lose a football and video games playmate, Garnica said he would be left as the oldest male in his household, which includes three sisters and a brother.
Garnica said he expected to keep up his regular chores, taking out the trash and recycling, while his father was away.
“But I have to do that even when he’s here,” he added.