News: Military children make international connection at summer camp
Story by Sgt. Angela Parady
BETHEL, Maine - Every summer Maine military children between nine and 15 are invited to spend a week at Bog Brook training facility in Gilead. They spend the days building self confidence, and the nights building friendships over nightly campfire. This year, a multinational guest added new dimension to the experience.
The Maine National Guard Summer Camp teaches campers new skills to help make better decisions in life and connect with other military children. The connections help build a strong network, now extending beyond the borders of Maine and the U.S. that will support and encourage them throughout their lives.
The camp, which started in 2000 with 53 campers, is open to any military child that falls within the age group and resides in the state of Maine for a small cost. This year they had 250 campers and more than 60 adult counselors, including an international camper from Maine’s state partner country, Montenegro.
“The mission of the Child and Youth program is to support the overall mission of Family Readiness by supporting and training the youth for military life,” said Master Sgt. Barbara Claudel, state family program director for the Maine Army National Guard. “We do this by familiarizing them with terms, culture, equipment and understanding of military life along with building relationships and resiliency skills.”
Maine and Montenegro became state partners in 2006 and have completed joint training programs both in Montenegro and the U.S. The training programs have extended beyond the civil-military relationships, to the more personal, home bound issues. How does Maine support the families of deployed soldiers? How do we help children deal with the absence of parents for long periods of time? Military families can often struggle with frequent moves, frequent separations, and unique family dynamics. The Maine-Montenegro Partnership has worked to strengthen military relationships and capabilities, now they are working on developing the family readiness dimension.
Montenegro has requested training on Family Readiness issues, which were completed in Montenegro by Claudel and Col. Andrew Gibson, a chaplain for the Maine Army National Guard.
Anastaija Alekisc. “Ana” is the new face at camp this year. Her family is also military, only she lives in Tivet, Montenegro. She shares some of the same fears and insecurities that the children in Maine face. Her experiences, her memories of this camp, will be taken home to help foster more interest in similar programs.
“This is an opportunity to put that training into an exercise of sorts by having a military child from their country here,” said Claudel. “It is also an excellent opportunity for our military children to see the bigger picture, and to learn about life in Montenegro, and what Ana’s military family life is like there. This was a huge success all around.”
Ana was fortunate to visit Maine this summer with her family. During the course of the Partnership Program, Maine service members have developed relationships with their counterparts. This summer, the Lewis family invited Ana’s family to Maine for a vacation and to learn more about our culture. She was very excited, but also very nervous when she learned she would be able to attend the youth camp.
“Everything is very new here,” said Ana. “This country, it is very different from mine, but it is fun. Everyone is really nice. They help me with everything, because English is not my first language, they helped me. They would go over everything with me, and help me understand better.”
Air Force Sr. Airman Luke Edward, a crew chief with the 101st Air Refueling Wing, Maine Air National Guard felt Ana brought a fresh perspective to things.
“It has been a lot of fun,” said the Bangor native. “There were times where they all sat down together, and she would teach them the alphabet and different words. Just sharing and learning different things about her culture, our culture.”
Taking part in activities like camping, swimming, rappelling, and kayaking, Ana found herself immersed in popular outdoor Maine activities.
Army Sgt. Eric Madore, now a military policeman with the 488th Military Police Company has been coming to the camp on and off, as a camper and now as a counselor for seven years. Seeing the camp grow and seeing more and more children garner the same support, the same networking tools that helped him growing up is one of the driving factors that keep him coming back to the camp.
“You get a new perspective, from a different country,” said Madore, who now lives in Saco. “She can tell them, these are the things I do in my country. These are things I get to do here. Her parents are military in Montenegro so she is with people here, who are similar to her. She can talk to these kids about her experiences and hopefully make lifelong friends.”
Eric hopes that Ana and her family will be able to take back the memories of this camp, and use it as a model for the Montenegrins to develop a similar program that they could grow into an exchange program for the children.
What was the biggest take away for Ana during her stay here? “I learned the language, how to speak English better. And then, I learned to believe in myself.”