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Camp, backpacks geared for war's junior heroes

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

Parades lined the streets and bright yellow ribbons adorned oak trees when Georgia's 48th Infantry Brigade returned home this month. As these families celebrated, others still wait for loved ones to come home, and they continue to adjust to daily life without them.

With these families in mind, Georgia 4-H is offering two programs through Operation Military Kids, an organization for children whose parents are, or have been, deployed.

Camp for military kids

The first is "Operation 4-H: Joint Forces at the Falls," a week of 4-H camp designed just for military kids. The camp is funded by a grant from the National 4-H headquarters, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Army Child and Youth Services, U.S. Air Force Family Member Programs and the UGA Colleges of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and Family and Consumer Sciences.

Set for July 17-21 at Wahsega 4-H Center in Dahlonega, Ga., the camp costs campers just $25 for the week. It's open to youth ages 11 - 13 whose parent(s) are currently deployed, soon to be deployed or have recently returned from deployment by the National Guard, Air Guard, Army Reserve or any active duty branch of service.

"This camp will especially benefit children of parents who are what we call 'suddenly military,'" said Mandy Marable, UGA Extension and State Military Liaison. "Suddenly military kids are those who, prior to this experience, have never experienced their guard or reserve parent being deployed. While our focus is heavily guard and reserve, we are opening the camp to any young person who has had a parent deployed."

In the past, these children's parents have been soldiers who serve their country by spending one weekend a month or one training week each summer away from home, Marable said.

This is the second year the military kids camp will be held in north Georgia. Houston County Extension, under the direction of county Extension agent Peggy Bledsoe, previously offered a similar camp experience for two years.

Hero thank you packs

Hero Packs, the second OMK program, is a service-learning project that pairs Georgia 4-H'ers with military kids across the state.

"Hero Packs are care packages made to thank and salute children with deployed parents for their sacrifices and contributions while their parent is deployed in the service of our country," Marable said.

Hero Packs is a joint project between Georgia 4-H and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Georgia. Together the organizations will distribute 900 backpacks across the state.

A Hero Pack is a backpack filled with a variety of items ranging from disposable cameras, journals and pens to 4-H teddy bears and bandanas. The packs also include coping and adjustment material for the student to share with their parent.

Georgia 4-Hers also made 900 friendship bracelets to include in the Hero Packs. And they wrote personal thank you letters to include, too.

"One junior 4-Her wrote 50 letters," Marable said. "He felt connected to the project and other military kids because his father is deployed."

Marable says 4-H agents across the state are distributing half of the Hero Packs on behalf of Georgia 4-H.

"The 4-H agents know the military families in their communities and can give a face to the project," she said. "Of course, each student who attends the Operation Joint Forces at the Falls camp will get a hero pack. Our goal is for these projects to help military kids in our state cope with the adjustments they are going through."

For more information on either project, contact Georgia 4-H at 706-542-4H4H (4444).

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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