MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
Combat Center Marines joined Fort Erwin, Calif., soldiers in Big Bear, Calif., to spend time with children at a very special summer camp.
Camp Nawaka, in Big Bear, was just one of many camps around the country hosting Operation Purple, which brought together children who’s parents are deployed, will soon be deployed or who were deployed within the last year.
“Operation Purple gives kids whose parents are deployed a chance to meet other kids whose parents are deployed,” said David Craig, a member of Soldiers and Families First, out of Nevada. “It is not like going to another camp and being the only kid in that situation and the other kids don’t understand what they are going through.”
The camp counselors and staff said their biggest reward is seeing their work pay off with the children.
“It’s a wonderful experience to see all the kids come together from all the branches of the military,” said Letty Herendez, the camp director. “They are all enjoying themselves and that everyone knows what they are going through.
“It is very rewarding for us to get these kids away from that atmosphere where they are constantly missing their parents. Here they have something to occupy their minds for at least a week,” she said
The children agreed that the camp is a good place to meet others like them.
“You get to meet more people than you normally do that know what you are going through,” said Kaitlin Key, a 13-year-old camper.
Key added that the activities, including rock climbing, canoeing, arts and crafts, discussions and archery, helped make the camp a fun experience.
The soldiers showed off their Humvees while the Marines spent their day talking with the kids, joining in camp activities and answering any questions.
“I had one-on-one conversations on the canoes with each of the kids about their parents and just seeing how they feel about it,” said Lance Cpl. Maurina Rios, and administrative clerk with Installation Personnel Administrative Center. “Just talking to them and asking them how they feel about their parents moving from place-to-place [was a learning experience.]”
Marines from the Combat Center’s K-9 unit also stopped by for a quick show of what their dogs can do.
“It is such a good time,” said Lance Cpl. Jose Rivera, a K-9 handler. “I enjoy doing this, having people informed about what the dogs can do. It’s for the kids, [because] they love to see some action. There are a lot of kids that love animals, and there might be one day that they want to do this. The kids have the opportunity to watch what we do and have more opportunities in the future.”
No matter how much the Marines enjoyed their time at Big Bear, they knew the real joy was helping the kids who also serve the country by sacrificing time away from their parents.
“It was pretty awesome to interact with the kids and find out their stories,” said Lance Cpl. Roberto Despoiu, an orders clerk with IPAC. They are all looking for friends because they are moving around a lot, and I guess life is pretty stressful for them since their parents move around so much.”
“Operation Purple camp is a huge help to the kids. We have had kids come back and say that camp changed their life,” Craig added. “So the more kids, the better off the kids will be. I don’t think deployments will stop anytime soon, so it is important to keep this program going.”