ORTING, Wash. – They entered the auditorium marching, singing cadence and waving their handmade guidons. Each platoon represented a classroom of third, fourth or fifth-graders from Ptarmigan Ridge Intermediate School in Orting, Wash. Their mission: tackle the “No Bully Bootcamp.”
On hand to advise and assist them in developing their teamwork skills and fitness goals were soldiers from the 62nd Medical Brigade from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, who previously partnered with the school during their presidential fitness testing.
The soldier-mentors led the recruits through seven military-themed stations. At the first station, the children tried on body armor and helmets, explored the inside of military vehicles and practiced talking on the radio. From there they engaged in obstacles which forced them to work as a team, like the “No Man Left Behind” three-legged race or the boy-girl tug-of-war challenge.
“Similar to the military, teamwork is a must to us. We are all about being a community and creating the community-feel within the school. Bullying is such an epidemic in schools throughout the country. We counteract it with the 3-R rules: recognize, refuse and report,” said Jennifer Benjamin, the school health and fitness instructor.
She explained that the idea for a field day event had initially come from one of the soldiers and was developed into an opportunity to put anti-bullying into action and encourage the children to be fit and play more outside.
“Getting kids to play outside can be a huge challenge and being able to utilize the soldiers is a big help. For months after the soldiers came the last time, we noticed prolonged improvement in their motivation and interest in the P.E classes,” said Benjamin. “This is the coolest thing all year long for them.”
The event was also beneficial to the soldiers.
“[Events like these] show us in a positive light, show the softer side of soldiers to the community. We are known to be fit and ready to go to war, but we do have that softer side. We are human, and we want to give back. Ultimately, we are here to serve them,” said Spc. Keely Layne, 102nd Forward Surgical Team.
Layne said the children treat them like “rockstars,” going out of their way to ask them questions or sit next to them during lunch. Often the students would walk up to the soldiers to exchange hugs or high-fives.
“I love to see the reaction on the children’s faces, how their eyes light up. It’s rewarding to see how much we mean to them. Waking up, going to work, and getting into a routine, it’s easy to forget how much people appreciate you for wearing the uniform,” said Layne, a Goochland, Va., native.
In the end, the soldiers never let on that there were no popsicles or water balloons when they went to basic combat training and the kids got a special treat as they prepared for their summer break.