|Camp Ft. Clover allows youths to build lasting friendships and build a network of support for their journey as military kids. All campers from the 2014 Camp Ft. Clover are pictured here.|
Operation: Military Kids & the 4-H Military Partnership work together to give military kids the opportunity to connect with each other.
The Operation Military Kids program provides support for Alabama’s military youths. According to data from the Department of Defense, Alabama alone has more than 23,000 military youths.
The Alabama Cooperative Extension System recognized the need to support these youths and created the connection with Operation: Military Kids. Part of a national emphasis supported by the land grant universities across the nation, the OMK program recognizes that military youths "are heroes, too."
In Alabama, the program is based at Auburn University and implemented through ACES and Alabama 4-H. Military youths include those who have a parent, guardian or sibling who serve. All military youths are faced with unique challenges of having a family member deployed due to the current military conflict, but since the National Guard and Army Reserve youths often do not live in close proximity to a military installation they do not have access to the resources found there. Because of this, the OMK program was originally created to serve National Guard and Army Reserve youths; however, equally important are the active-duty Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard. Regardless of whether families are experiencing deployment for the first time, the second time or another in a series of multiple deployments, OMK’s goal is to connect all military children and youths with local resources to achieve a sense of community support and enhance their well-being.
Alabama OMK and the 4-H Military Partnership give the youths opportunities to attend camps, including a weeklong camp at YMCA Camp Chandler in Wetumpka named Camp Ft. Clover. Held each year in June, military youths from across the state enjoy archery, horseback riding, canoeing, kayaking, sailing, jumping on the Aquatramp, doing arts and crafts, swimming, and taking on the 30-foot pamper pole challenge. Through teambuilding and caring adult partnerships, Camp Ft. Clover provides youths with opportunities to foster lasting friendships and build up their resilience to the challenges they may face as a military youths.
This year, Alabama OMK also sponsored a camp for youths of Army National Guard and Army Reserve youths to Dauphin Island. The four-day trip included visits to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and Estuarium, a tour from the Dauphin Island Coast Guard where the youths were taken out in the cutters, and an ECO boat ride down the Gulf Coast where youths were able to touch marine life and feed seagulls. The trip also included stops in Pensacola to see the Blue Angels fly at the Naval Aviation Museum, and in Mobile for a tour of the USS Alabama.
These camps allow youths to concentrate on simply being kids, and escape from the unique stresses of being a military kid, often one with a loved one deployed.
Alabama 4-H and OMK encourage military youths to join or create new military 4-H clubs, and take advantage of all the fun and learning found with 4-H membership. Alabama 4-H has grant funding available to support these military 4-H clubs for youths on and off installations. This is possible through support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, 4-H National Headquarters; U.S. Army Child, Youth and School Services; U.S. Air Force Child and Youth Programs; U.S. Navy Child and Youth Programs; and Auburn University’s Alabama Cooperation Extension System 4-H Program though grant funding at Kansas State University.
The Alabama Operation: Military Kids partnership is a shared initiative of the U.S. Army Child, Youth & School Services and is funded by the Army National Guard and Army Reserve in collaboration with ACES.
Rachel Simpson is the OMK Coordinator & Military Liaison with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.