“I was terrified,” 16-year-old Julliana Barlow of Marshall, Wisconsin, said, as she described her feeling as she climbed the stairs to the top of the rappel tower.
Barlow was one of many kids attending the Wisconsin National Guard Youth Camp hosted by the Wisconsin National Guard Family Program at Volk Field and Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, from July 11-13. Campers were divided into three age groups; 8-10, 11- 13, 14-17.
According to the camp’s mission statement, its purpose is to assemble children from military families and provide them with an opportunity to discover and make new friends while engaging in teamwork. Tina Jeffords, Youth Program Coordinator, believes this is important because it provides a network for military families, which is critical, especially during deployments.
It’s important for the youth campers, “to make friends and build a support network so when their family members deploy they have someone who understands and gets it,” said Jeffords.
It also helps military children gain an understanding of some of the duties their parents perform as Soldiers or Airmen in the National Guard, which can help ease a child’s fear of the unknown when their parent is deployed.
Volunteers are mostly comprised of service members who understand the military lifestyle and duties first hand.
“The instructors are very helpful and make you feel safe,” Barlow said.
The instructors’ level heads and calm demeanor helped her get the courage to make the jump, she added.
Jarrett Goodman, a 15-year-old from Mauston, Wisconsin, agreed.
“I was a little scared at first,” explained Goodman, “but my first time was a few years ago.”
Goodman said each time he attends Youth Camp and participates in the activities he gets a little braver and a little stronger. He hopes these attributes will be helpful as he pursues a career in the military.
Other events included a tug-of-war tournament, an ice cream social, a rock wall, scuba diving, a leadership course and an airplane flight. These events presented puzzles and obstacles the campers had to solve and overcome as a team.
“The tug-of-war is my favorite,” Col. Joni Mathews, the youth camp director said. “There are two age groups that participate and it is so much fun to see their determination and motivation.”
In addition to competing and team-building, campers are exposed to aspects of being a Soldier or Airmen, including marching, calling cadence, physical training, eating at dining facilities and basic military customs and courtesies.
“If you have a dad or a parent, relative or a close friend that’s deployed someplace, this is a good thing to go to,” said 12-year-old Mileana Burmesch. “It calms you down, and you can meet new friends and tell people about your problems, and it’s just a fun thing to do.”
Now in its 22nd year, the camp staff continuously strives to make the event enjoyable for the campers.
“My favorite thing about camp is doing the obstacles and eating MRE’s; I want to come back,” ten-year-old, Chase Johnson, said.
Pfc. Christopher Enderle, Spc. Katie Eggers, and Sgt. Adam Duffy contributed to this report.