PHOTO: My son going through "In-Processing" at Operation Purple Camp this summer. He had a great experience and cannot wait to apply again next year.
"Can I still go if my favorite color is not purple?" This is one of the dozens of questions I answered for my nine-year-old son as we prepared for his FIRST camp experience, his first overnight stay with anyone who was not a blood relative, in fact. He was thrilled; I was worried ... the story of my life as a mom of two active boys.
I had done my research on camps in Texas, where we currently live, and knew there were a lot of great options out there. Our Cub Scout pack as well as our church Children’s Program was taking groups of kids to camp this summer. Dozens of other camps were available, too, from science camps to cooking schools to outdoor field experiences. They all sounded fun, most were reasonably priced, and my son would have enjoyed them all. So how does a mom choose?
Well, I began like I always do when I have lots of options and need to make one choice ... I made a list of Pros/Cons. It's not quite the Military Decision-Making Process, but it's a good start. Pros for Operation Purple camps included cost (can't beat FREE!), activities (swimming, kayaking, archery, riflery, and zip-lines among others), and organization. It may be silly, but I would never send my child to a camp whose initial paperwork is unorganized; it gives me a bad feeling about how they might organize my child during the camp. I envision a late-night phone call: "Mrs. Cook, we're sorry to inform you that we seem to have lost your son. We're sure he's around here somewhere, but we're not exactly sure where ...” But I digress.
So I have a list of pros and cons and Operation Purple is at the top along with a couple of other great choices. The only "cons" I could see to the camp were 1) he would have to leave Mom and spend the night somewhere else (this topped the "cons" list for all camps) and 2) it was a couple of hours away (other camps were in town or nearby). After reading all the materials, though, it became clear to me that Operation Purple was the place for my child this summer.
Unique to the camp? It is designed especially for military kids. The "purple" in "Operation Purple" means that it is all branches of service: Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, and Marines, so my child would meet other kids from different military backgrounds.
Special events included a "Wall of Honor" where each child placed a photo of their service member, a panel of service members who would talk candidly and answer questions from the campers, and a special "rock" ceremony where each child contributed a rock from their area of Texas to the camp. Best of all, they had lots of discussions about what it's like to be in the military and how to cope with things like deployments and fear.
Once my choice was made, the registration process was simple and, yes, organized. Since Operation Purple is sponsored by the National Military Family Association (NMFA), I registered online at the NMFA website. The subsequent emails I received were timely, informational, and reassuring. After I found out that our application had been accepted and that my son was selected (apparently there is a waiting list each year and applications are reviewed by a committee of some sort), I was sent some paperwork via email to complete. Medical forms, permission to photograph, and emergency contacts topped the list of things I had to return.
I received a few emails describing the camp and telling me what my child should bring. I was feeling good about our choice and all the correspondence was friendly and professional. Once the camp dates arrived, my husband and I drove to the camp location to complete the registration process and locate the right 'bunk.' Registration (aka "In-Processing") was a breeze ... we went through military-themed stations that were very organized and quick to maneuver. The TA-50 Field Gear station provided the campers with a backpack and water bottle and the Communication Station allowed us to sign up for a really cool site called "Bunk Notes" where we could send emails and care packages during the week.
We helped load his things into his air-conditioned dorm and met his counselors. After a quick tour of the main buildings, we ended up in the main meeting room where our son was greeted by a counselor and immediately immersed into some camp songs and games. A few quick hugs and a "See you, Mom!" and we were off again, driving home wondering how his week would go.
We got one phone call that week. Our son had borrowed a counselor's phone and called just before bed to say, "I'm having a great time and [hey, GUYS! I'm on the PHONE! SHHH!] and I love you!" It was a quick call and an instant reminder of how grown-up my first-born child had become.
At the end of the week, I arrived at camp in time for the closing ceremonies, including a slide show and awards for things like "Messiest Dorm," which I was pleased to learn my son's group did NOT win. He was genuinely happy to see me and talked non-stop through lunch and the two-hour ride home. At the top of his list? The zip-line ("Mommy, I was scared at first but my counselor just told me to strap-in and jump!") and the camo-relay ("We had to put on a whole combat uniform and do push-ups!"). He had a great time and we left our Operation Purple Camp experience very happy and hoping for another chance to attend next year!
For more information: Operation Purple Camps!