BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
When a parent is deployed, children are also called to duty.
The absence and fear of losing a parent, and the nagging sense of uncertainty, can put a heavy psychological burden on children. But there is help.
Operation Purple Summer Camps, developed by the National Military Family Association and sponsored by TriWest Healthcare Alliance in 21 western states, provide a safe environment to help the children of deployed U.S. Service men and women deal with the emotional challenges of their parents' deployment.
TriWest Healthcare Alliance, a long-standing supporter of NMFA, contributed $500,000 to help fund this year's Operation Purple Camp program.
"I learned that 'home sickness' to them means missing their family more than it means missing a home because they're used to moving from base to base, but they never get used to missing their parents," said Barbara Dowling, Camp Director at the July 15th - 31st Air Force Academy's Farish Recreation Area camp in Woodland Park, Colorado. "Camps like these are needed to show children that others feel like them, and provide a safe and fun place where they can let off steam and be kids with no family responsibilities."
There are 155,000 children experiencing the absence of a parent due to a deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. This statistic, according to the National Military Family Association, does not include children who have parents deployed elsewhere around the world.
"TriWest believes in these camps," said Dowling, "because they provide a support network and healing opportunity for military kids dealing with the heavy emotional burden of being separated from their deployed parent."
At camp, these kids can also talk with others their age, faced with similar circumstances.
"The children they meet at these summer camps show them they are not alone," said David J. McIntyre, President and CEO of TriWest Healthcare Alliance. "They learn how to express and deal with their anxieties and have a lot of fun, too."
This year, Operation Purple Camps will host more than 3,500 children ages 7 to 18 for more than 40 weeks of camps held at 34 locations in 26 states. The camps range from five to seven days.
About 20 children from the Aurora area are attending the camps this year, including 11-year-old Kennedy Paulus, son of the 140th Wing's Senior Master Sgt. Tom Paulus.
"Children of military families make great personal sacrifices when a parent is away defending our nation," said Mr. McIntyre. "We at TriWest are committed to helping these children learn the skills that will help provide the emotional support to make deployments easier."
Kennedy will benefit from the donation because his father deployed twice since 2005 for six-month tours.
"He'll be around kids who have had the same experiences being without one or both of their parents," Sergeant Paulus said.
The "purple" in the program's name is recognized throughout the military community as signifying any event that is open to any member of the uniformed services, as well as the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the United States Public Health Service.
For more information, visit the National Military Family Association's Web site at www.NMFA.org