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Military kids gather together at Copper Cannon

Camp hosts children whose parents are deployed

August 18, 2010
BETHLEHEM—For the second year in a row, Copper Cannon Camp played host to children of servicemen from throughout the state.

The children were there as part of Operation Purple Camp, a series of summer camps around the country aimed at bringing together children of deployed or soon to be deployed soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines.

Many children, especially of reservists or National Guardsmen, who are generally not stationed near a base, often do not know each other, according to Pete Christnacht, director at Copper Cannon. This gives them a chance to be surrounded by children their own age who are experiencing many of the same things they are experiencing in their lives: anxiety, separation from their parents, loneliness, peers who don't understand much of what they face in their lives.

The camp, located in Bethlehem on the Franconia border, has operated since 1963 with a mission to give economically disadvantaged youth a chance to go to camp. Operation Purple Camp is a little different for Copper Cannon, as the parents' military rather than economic status was looked at. Ham Ford, who founded the camp, was a pilot in the Army Air Force during World War II.

In order to host the camp Copper Cannon had to go through an application process and then send staff to a training session in Washington, D.C.

This year's Operation Purple Camp was divided into two one-week sessions. The first week was for children ages 7 to 12. The second week was for teens up to age 17, though this year the oldest camper was 16, Christnacht said.

There were 54 younger children and 52 teens, according to Copper Cannon staff member Shona Hudon. They participate in many activities, including a ropes course with zip line, hiking, archery, humvee rides, swimming and many other outdoor activities.

The children who are eligible are those children who parents are deployed or in a pre-deployment phase—as are many National Guardsmen, who are preparing for the largest ever deployment of the Guard in the state's history.

Hudon said that compared to the campers that ordinarily come through the camp, the kids in Operation Purple Camp are a little more serious. Teens are usually more serious than little kids anyway, she said, but these teens have a deeper sense of gravity about them.

Christnacht agreed and said there is a real seriousness to the kids, which permeates the staff as well.

"This is real. When you get that call from a parent who is deployed who wants to speak to their kid, you know how real it is," Christnacht said. "These kids mature faster than other kids. They have a greater sense of responsibility."

In addition to Operation Purple Camp there was an adventure camp for teens whose parents are in the Guard. This ran alongside one of the regular camp sessions, giving the two groups a chance to mingle, Christnacht said. This meant that three of the camp's nine weeks were devoted to children of military families in one way or another. Also, there was a two week spring break dedicated to military campers, Christnacht said.

Two active duty National Guardsmen were on hand for the week to answer questions about the military and deployment for the kids. They discussed some of the technology the soldiers use, as well as the body armor and other equipment. They also discussed various ways of keeping in regular contact with their parents, including Skype and email.

Deployment is tough for everyone, Christnacht said.

"The kids serve too," Christnacht said. "You have to remember that the parents all volunteered but the kids were drafted."

At the end of their week the kids each get a T-shirt, awards from the events they were in, and a set of dogtags with their names on it, and the name of the camp.

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