JOINT BASE LEWIS MCCHORD, Wash. - Unlike the movie, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” these pirates didn’t have to sail across open waters to find their treasure. Instead they were given a map made of parchment paper and ventured along the American Lake, Joint Base Lewis-McChord-North, Wash., to discover prizes hidden inside a treasure chest.
“Ahoy mateys,” said Timmy Milligan, a systems navigator for the Exceptional Family Member Program, JBLM. “Welcome aboard.”
Over 100 service members and their families set out to explore a day of camp activities hosted by the EFMP at JBLM’s Northwest Adventure Center’s lakeside cabins, Aug. 18.
Twelve of those families won a raffle which allowed them to stay overnight in cabins the entire weekend, extending the Pirates of American Lake theme for them.
EFMP is a mandatory enrollment program that works with military and civilian agencies to provide a comprehensive, coordinated, and multidisciplinary approach for medical, educational and community support services to families with special needs.
Many camp participants wore an eye patch to get into their pirate personas. The camp offered such activities as fishing, boat rides, coloring bandanas, a bounce house, karaoke, bingo and painting beards on faces.
One soldier who brought along three generations of his family said this camp was an excellent opportunity to push his daughter, who is autistic and in a wheelchair, just outside her rim of comfort.
“I think Becky’s favorite activity was bingo because she got to participate in a game, win prizes and socialize,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph Humphrey, infantryman, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, JBLM. “She doesn’t normally get that kind of interaction.”
Due to medical reasons, Becky’s memory is limited, therefore her family plans on making this event an annual tradition.
“A lot of the experiences we do are like the first time with her,” Humphrey said.
A shipmate named Michael experienced fishing and riding in a pontoon for the first time.
His mother, Sgt. Michelle Plaza, human resource non-commissioned officer, 62nd Medical Brigade, said her youngest son overcame many hurdles by participating in the camp.
“Fishing was a challenge that Michael got to conquer,” Plaza said. “He was also excited that he got to drive the boat for a few minutes while out on the lake.”
The EFMP staff hopes to have the Warrior Transition Battalion, a unit that provides personal support to wounded soldiers who require at least six months of rehabilitative care and complex medical management to continue the camp’s legacy by volunteering next year and being a role model.
“If a soldier is missing a limb but shows that they are still able to do activities, they can be someone the kids could look up to,” said Naomi Herrera, a volunteer with Army Community Services since 1997.
“This is one weekend out of a year that children with special needs can be around other children with special needs,” Herrera said. “It’s all about them and you can just see their faces light up.”
Several families plan to share in the spoils for years to come.
An orange glow filled the horizon as the sun set. Young buccaneers played in an open field of grass while old salts earned their keep by grilling trout over an open flame.
“I hope I get the same opportunity to attend next year,” Plaza said. “It will be an event for us to look forward to every year.”