VOLK FIELD, Wis. — More than 120 military youth attended the 25th Wisconsin National Guard Youth Camp, hosted July 27-29 at Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center in Camp Douglas, Wisconsin.
The camp is open to children who have a service member in their family, whether it is a parent, sibling, grandparent or even an aunt or uncle. Youth camp activities are designed to educate and engage military children while also building resilience, self-confidence and connections with other military children.
“My favorite part is interacting with all of the children, seeing their personalities grow and being more confident on Sunday than when they arrived on Friday,” said Joe Stoner, lead youth counselor for 11-13 year olds.
“It is really impressive — Friday they are super shy, don’t want to talk to anyone and by Sunday you can’t get them all to stop talking to each other,” Stoner continued. “It is just a great, unique environment for them to bond and form cohesion at this age.”
Building that cohesion and resiliency helps build readiness among National Guard families and children, many of whom see their loved ones serve on state active duty missions during emergencies or deploy to combat zones in support of the National Guard’s federal mission as the primary combat reserve of the Army and Air Force.
Campers are divided into three age groups, each with tailored events to help develop different core competencies. Children get a glimpse into what their service member does on a typical drill weekend through a multitude of activities — staying in military barracks, eating at the base dining facility, confidence and conditioning courses, rock walls and rappelling towers. They also learn how to march and sing cadences.
“Marching is my favorite part of youth camp,” said 12-year-old Ben Shinnick son of a Wisconsin Army National Guard member. “Camp has helped me learn more about the importance of respect for the military and being kind to all people.”
“It wasn’t what I was expecting,” 12-year-old Morgan Schwerin, daughter of an Air National Guardsmen said about her very first camp experience. “I thought it was going to be all military and serious, and then I realized how fun it was. My most favorite part so far is playing capture the flag, and I have made a lot of friends.’
The camp activities are geared towards improving teamwork and communication.
“Seeing the older kids brainstorming, working together, taking on leadership roles, communicating and succeeding the obstacles together was truly impressive, said Brig. Gen. David O’Donahue, Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for Civil Support. “After just a day together, they showed that they knew you only succeed if your team succeeds.”
The Youth Camp is hosted annually by the Service Member Support Division and draws military and civilian volunteers from all over the state to support the event.
“This event doesn’t happen by accident — it takes a lot of planning, and what I have been most amazed about is seeing how much fun the kids have because of the volunteers that make it happen,” O’Donahue said. “It takes a lot of very dedicated and patient people to work with all of the different age groups. We have terrific volunteers that make it special for all kids.”
Youth Camp is open annually to children ages 8-18. Registration and photos of the annual youth camp can be found at https://www.wisconsinmilitary.org/byc/ Stoner encouraged youth to register for next year’s camp.
“Do it, just do it! It is a great time,” he said. “I haven’t had any kids cry about missing home — we keep them so busy that it is the last thing on their mind. It is a great experience. There are kids that live hours and hours away that attend, and every time they leave they have new best friends.”
O’Donahue said the camp offered a full weekend of unique activities.
“I would highly encourage this camp to parents,” he said. “I wish my wife and I would’ve taken advantage of it when our kids were much smaller.”