News: Tara Wildlife Retreat focuses on teamwork and family
Story by Maj. Brooks Little
WARREN COUNTY, Miss. – The Mississippi National Guard’s Family Programs recently hosted a youth retreat at Tara Wildlife located in the Eagle Lake Community, April 11-13 which was designed to enhance the quality of life of 23 5- to 8-year-old military children and their National Guard parents.
The retreat gave participants a chance to get away for a weekend and focus on their family relationships through outdoor activities. Events included an open-air bus ride, a scavenger hunt, fishing, a photography competition, field games such as kickball and a special appearance by Corey Hunt, Agent Alligator Trapper.
“We wanted to emphasize team building and have the kids experience new things, said Mrs. Jan Reeves, Child and State Youth Coordinator for the Mississippi National Guard. “Our largest success is watching the kids grow over the weekend.”
Reeves has worked in Family Programs over four years with 10 to 15-year-olds and will oversee two additional youth camps for both Army National Guard and Air National Guard youth this year. She is also working towards establishing a Space Camp for Mississippi National Guard youth in the future.
Cooper Lewis Gant, 8 years old, was one of many children that loved experiencing what Tara Wildlife had to offer during the retreat. Gant said he loved the fishing part because he caught his first fish on his own, but thought the whole experience was great.
“I liked the bus ride because I got to ride on the levee,” said Gant. “I saw 19 deer!”
Tara Wildlife has 8 miles of Mississippi River frontage and 9,000 acres of oxbow lakes and bottomland hardwood forests. It is one of the nation’s ultimate wildlife destinations and is widely known across the south for it’s premier deer and turkey hunting.
Senior Master Sgt. David Hammarstrom from the 172nd Force Support Squadron said he had a great time at this retreat with his son John David, 7 years old. He said he was surprised that there was a program that allowed him to have this experience. Initially he thought there would be limitations on what he could do but he found that it was wide-open to experience just as if you were paying guest.
“I am very impressed and I hope to come back one day” said Hammarstrom. “I am thankful for whoever raises the money and pays for this because I know it is not totally free. Whatever organizations are out there donating money or whoever is out there beating the bushes getting donations…. I just want to give a big thanks to them for what they are doing… for taking care of us (service members) ….and giving us the opportunity to come and relax.”
Mr. Corey Hunt, Agent Alligator Trapper was a huge success with the young audience. Many of the children were excited to see live alligators and some even asked to touch an alligator. Hunt was able to provide the children through a very thorough presentation about the habitat, attributes, instincts and the importance of being safe around the American alligator.
Parents were able to take a break under the trees as some of the children played kick ball, others climbed trees together and a few threw a Frisbee in an open field adjacent to lodge at the end of the day on Saturday. Some were tired from the fast pace the day that had been presented but enjoyed the company of other friends and parents.
“Seeing my little girl, Cameron, catch her first fish, the gator show and wide-open spaces were the best things about this weekend,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jeb Trammell also with the 172nd Airlift Wing. “She (Cameron) also made three or four real good friends here.”
Sgt. Huelondria Smith said this venue provided her family the best opportunity to see nature up close as well as give them perspective on what it means to have patience as they learned things through a hands on approach.
"Overall, this event is completely about the family and its contribution to the Guard," said Reeves. The Mississippi National Guard Youth Program allows our Service Members to connect with their children in different and unique ways. Here at Tara Wildlife, the families can connect with nature and the outdoors, away from the business of the world. Our Service Members have made great sacrifices. It is our responsibility at Family Programs to make sure that we give back to them and their families."