Hundreds of kids moved into barracks this week at Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, Miss., to experience what their military parents do while away from home for training and deployment.
Campers at the Mississippi National Guard’s Kids Annual Training camp, now in its 20th year, get the full experience of life on the base – bunk checks, flag protocol, meals in the mess hall and a whole lot of marching. In formation, of course.
“The children really didn’t know what their parents did when they came to military duty,” Camp Director Kim Hogg said. “That’s what the camp started out as ... to educate their children what their parents did when they came to drill, when they came to annual training, and then into deployment.”
About 150 children, ages 9 to 12, divide up at the beginning of the week into four groups – each with its own color, marching cadence, banner and song. Campers belt out their cadences as they march between their many activities: touring the base in tanks, watching jets do a fly-over, training on simulated weapons systems and swimming, to name a few.
“It’s really fun. I enjoy doing it and I enjoy meeting new people,” said Emily Braswell, a second-year camper whose father is currently deployed in Afghanistan with the Air National Guard. “It teaches me how to march and what he does when he’s out when he’s deployed.”
Along with all the fun activities, Emily said another of her favorite parts of Kid’s AT is making friends with others who know what it’s like to have their mom or dad deployed.
"We talk about where our parents are and how we've been since they've been deployed because we're going through the same stuff. We understand each other more."
Amber Compton remembers what it was like before she first attended the camp 10 years ago -- wondering what her dad did while on duty and worrying about him. Now 19 years old, she, like many of the volunteer counselors who return to the camp, draws from her own experiences as a military child to know what her campers need and how to best help them.
“Well, first of all, you have to let them know that their mom or dad is going to be OK. You always have to reassure them that they’re going to be safe and that they know what they’re doing,” Compton said. The camp helps reassure the campers about their parents. “It gets their mind at ease and gives them a chance to take their minds off the stressing.”
Garrett Tenney is a correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined FNC in April 2013 and is based in the Chicago bureau.