News: Kids strengthen Army ties
Story by Sgt. Sarah Enos
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash.– In what was supposed to be five military company formations standing at parade rest on an open grassy field, was in reality, a motley crew of children between the ages of 5-12, playing soldier for a day while doing their best to stand still and keep from fidgeting.
Resilience is one aspect for troops to consider when preparing for deployment, especially for those who have a spouse or child. By focusing on building strong family ties, service members and their families prepare to weather the burdens and stress of a long deployment.
To strengthen connections with their military parents, 73 children of 555th Engineer Brigade soldiers gained a better understanding of military life during the brigade’s sixth annual Kid’s Deployment Camp on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., July 26.
Each year, the first time campers raise their right hand during an oath of enlistment and start out with the honorary rank of specialist. Every year thereafter, returning campers are promoted one rank, with command sergeant major being the highest.
One of the kids said she was really nervous as this was her first time attending.
“At first I didn’t know if I would be good enough,” said 10-year-old Madison Jenkins, assigned to the camp’s Rugged Company. “But after many compliments from the Army guys, I felt better and think I’m doing really well.”
The parents were present for the enlistment, but were encouraged not to return until the redeployment ceremony at the end of the day.
“It’s [the camp] a nice break for the parents and a great time for the kids,” said Stephanie Wheeler, Family Readiness Support assistant, 14th Engineer Battalion.
The children connected with one another while learning how to march, traversing obstacle courses and viewing static displays. At the paintball range, the older kids got to shoot paintballs while the younger ones shot marshmallow guns.
Sgt. 1st Class Justin Smith, first sergeant for Forward Support Company, 14th Engineer Battalion, said his 12-year-old son, Ryan, has been a part of the military life since he was born and has had to endure his being deployed three times. Now assigned to the camp’s Pace Maker Company, Ryan was eager to handle equipment such as an ordnance robot and climbing around a fire truck.
“I think he [Ryan] will better connect with what I do on a day-to-day basis,” Smith said. “And he’ll get an idea of what we go through in the Army.”
While some of the children only know their parents as just mommy or daddy, others had an idea of what they do in the Army.
“My daddy is a mechanic,” Jenkins said. “I’m proud of him because when he gets deployed he works on the tanks so people can use them when they go to war. And sometimes he works on my mom’s car and I help him.”
The children were able to keep the company T-shirt they wore, a water bottle, a hat and personalized identification tags to take home as souvenirs.
“I plan on telling my dad all about my day,” Jenkins said. “I also think I might hang up my dog-tags because they are now special to me.”
“It’s all about family,” said one of Jenkin’s “platoon leaders,” Spc. Camron Aschenbrenner, horizontal construction engineer, 610th Engineer Support Company. “I mean, soldiers are first, but you can’t be clear headed and accomplish the mission without knowing your family is okay. As long as the unit takes care of the family, the soldiers are happy and you get a more efficient unit.”