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By AMANDA HENSLEY
From the moment they woke up and stood – hands over hearts – as the American flag was raised, they clearly weren’t your average campers.
“They stood at full attention,” said Jenny Wurzback of the campers last week at Camp Kysoc in Carrollton. Wurzback works for Cardinal Hill Health Care System, which operates Kysoc.
She said the moment was emotional and intense. “It was overwhelming,” and clear to see how much the flag and the Pledge of Allegiance meant to campers at Operation Purple, a program for children with at least one parent serving in the U.S. military reserves or deployed oversees in 2008.
“People don’t realize they [the children] do serve too,” said camp director Jim Ebert “They are under so much stress.”
Ebert said the children, of course, worry about their parents who are serving, and worry about the parent who is at home with them.
“It’s tough on the kids,” he said. “It’s an honor for us to be able to do this for them.”
With the war in Iraq in its fifth year, and more combat anticipated in Afghanistan, military children are making sacrifices as their parents are gone for months, even years, at a time.
Assistant camp director Jim Watkins said the camp provides a “coping mechanism,” bringing the children together with others in the same situation.
The camp is sponsored by the National Military Family Association, which started the Operation Purple Summer Camp program in 2004.
“More than 155,000 kids have at least one parent who is deployed in the war on terrorism,” according to information on the Operation Purple Web site. That number doesn’t include children whose parents are on routine deployments.
Operation Purple began with 12 camps the first summer. This year, there are camps at 62 locations serving 100,000 children for a total of 100 camping weeks.
Children attend the camps for free, paid for this year by The Sierra Club and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.
Camp KYSOC last hosted 158 military children from seven states. This week, another 160 military children are attending the camp.
Camp counselor Rebekah Wurzback said the camp is “a really good opportunity to relate (to the other children) and realize they’re not alone.”
The camp includes the usual activities: swimming, fishing and canoeing.
But on Military Day last Wednesday, the camp was the destination of an Apache military helicopter. The campers were able to climb up and inspect it.
It wasn’t a big deal for every camper. Jenny Wurzback said she overheard one boy say, “I see this all the time.”
Tyler Glaubei of Illinois would disagree. “This is so cool,” he said, also using the word “awesome” as he inspected the aircraft.
It was especially “cool” for camper Austin Kubisch, 8, whose father, Chief Warrant Officer Vincent Kubisch, was the Apache’s pilot, along with Lt. Shawn McIntosh. Kubish served 10 months in Kuwait and 18 months in Iraq.
Austin said he only bragged about his dad “a little bit.”
His mom, Melissa Kubisch, a volunteer family readiness leader with the 11th Aviation Command at Fort Knox, said Austin and his two siblings have been attending Operation Purple camps for four summers.
The camps allow the children to “get away and have fun and do things for themselves,” she explained. “It gives them self-confidence before going back to school, and helps get out that last bit of summer energy they have so they can focus on school.”
It also provides parents with some “time for themselves” while their children are away, she said.
The fact that the camp is free is a bonus, she added. She has been working full-time as a teacher to provide for her children while her husband was deployed.
McIntosh said he was surprised at how much some of the campers knew about the Apache already. “They are very knowledgeable, more than normal.”
After the helicopter visit, the children were treated to a 20-minute educational video on about roller coasters in the Army Cinema Van before going back to their regular activities.