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4-H camp designed with military kids in mind

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

Not all Georgia 4-H campers are issued dog tags. But for a select few this summer, they’ll get a firsthand taste of what military life is like.

“Operation 4-H: Joint Forces at the Falls” is a week of 4-H camp designed for children whose parents 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.

Set for July 17-21 at Wahsega 4-H Center in Dahlonega, Ga., the camp costs $25 for the week and is open to youth ages 11 - 13.

Bag 'n drag

The campers will go through the same ‘bag and drag’ experience and deployment line on the first day of camp that their military parents experience. They’ll be issued dog tags and a black T-shirt which will serve as their uniform.

The campers will wake up at 7 a.m. for their daily exercise regime and eat military rations just like their soldier- parent.

“We want the camp to be realistic," said Mandy Marable, UGA Cooperative Extension and State Military Liaison. "They don’t eat exactly like their parents. We only serve them the MREs [meals ready to eat] once."

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.

Suddenly military kids

“This camp will especially benefit children of parents who are what we call ‘suddenly military,’” Marable said. “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, the parents of these children 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 in middle Georgia.

One of the main goals of “Operation 4-H: Joint Forces at the Falls” is to have the youth experience military life, she said. But it’s still 4-H camp.

"The kids get to do all the things we do in every other 4-H camp across our state," she said. "They’ll go swimming and tubing, make crafts, climb high and low ropes courses and play ultimate frisbee."

Bus pick-up new aspect

To make attending the camp more convenient, a chartered bus will pick up campers at central locations and transport them to the Wahsega 4-H Center. On Monday, July 17, the bus will start in Valdosta, make stops in Tifton, Warner Robins, Macon and at Rock Eagle 4-H Center, and then travel to the camp site near Dahlonega. On Friday, July 21, the bus will drop the campers off in the same locations. There is no cost to use this transportation to and from camp.

For questions about the military kids 4-H camp, e-mail Casey Mull at oper4h@uga.edu or call him at (706) 542-4444.

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

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