Guard supports summer camp for Florida’s military youth

Written by  //  August 4, 2011  //  Feature Stories, News

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UMATILLA, Fla. (Aug. 4, 2011) – National Guard Soldiers helped meet the needs of some of Florida’s youngest citizens this week, as members of the Florida Army National Guard served as mentors and counselor during a free summer camp for children of military personnel.

1st Sgt. Alain Roque, a member of the Florida National Guard's Drug Demand Reduction program tells a military youth camp attendee about techniques for climbing a high ropes course at the Florida Elks Youth Camp in Umatilla, Fla., Aug. 2, 2011. Roque said the camp can be emotional for many of the Guardsmen who know what it’s like to be separated from a child because of a deployment. Photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa

Soldiers from Florida’s Drug Demand Reduction (DDR) program – who normally offer curriculums to Florida schools about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse – attended the week-long camp at the Florida Elks Youth Camp in Central Florida, Aug. 1-6. The DDR experts served as cadre at the 385-acre camp north of Orlando, working alongside camp instructors and integrating themselves with the 350 children and teenagers attending the camp. All of the children, ages 9-16, were dependants of active and reserve military members serving in Florida.

Drug Demand Reduction Administrator and Commander of the Guard’s 144th Transportation Company Capt. Jeanette Kingsley explained that this was the third year for the no-expense “military kids’ week” at the camp. She said this year’s attendance increased by 200 campers from last year, and the youths were able to spend the week participating in athletic events, making crafts, and having fun in a safe environment with other kids from military families. The events include soccer, swimming, archery, a rock wall climb, canoeing, a high ropes obstacle course, and DDR informational classes about drug, tobacco and alcohol abuse.

According to Kingsley the most important aspect of the camp was for the children to have adults they can relate to, and even talk with about ways of coping with being part of a military family.

Florida National Guard Soldier Spc. Grace Saez cheers on attendees navigating a high ropes obstacle course at the Florida Elks Youth Camp in Umatilla, Fla., Aug. 2, 2011. Photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa

“It’s really important to have military members out here because the kids are able to identify with the Soldiers and can talk with them,” she said. “Some of these kids have parents who are currently deployed or have been wounded…Maybe one kid has a father deployed, or another has one who just came back.

 “It wouldn’t be a military week if you didn’t have Guardsmen or the military out here,” she added. “They look to us as role models.”

DDR’s First Sergeant Alain Roque, a member of the 50th Area Support Group, said the week at the camp can be emotional for many of the Guardsmen who know what it’s like to be separated from a child because of a deployment.

“A lot of us wish when we were deployed that someone would have taken the time and talked to our kids and interacted with them,” Roque said. “This week is especially heartwarming because it hits closer to home.”

Florida’s Drug Demand Reduction program reached more than 107,000 students across Florida last year using several types of curriculum to educate youth about the dangers of drug abuse.

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