I spent last week at the Michigan National Guard Youth Leadership Camp. The program provides a week of activities for military (and supporting civilian employees) kids aged 9-12. This year’s Camp was the 14th annual, so this is an established program.
About 150 kids attend the Camp. It takes probably about that many team and activities coaches and behind-the-scenes people to pull this camp off. Amazingly, the entire staff is volunteer, with only two exceptions. Now, some of these folks, like me, work full-time for the military, but some are traditional Guardsmen, meaning they usually drill one weekend a month and two weeks a year. Those folks have regular civilian jobs and they took time of work to spend with other people’s kids. In many cases, but not all, they have kids (or junior coaches) at Camp. Obviously they care.
Two years ago, I was a team coach, like this year. The team coaches get a group of 9-10 or 11-12 year olds to meals and the various activities. My daughter was a Trailblazer (what the campers are called) my first year and a junior coach this year. The coach’s job is challenging, definitely work, and you’re glad by Thursday that Camp’s only a week long. But it’s rewarding to see the kids having fun and to see the team grow. I was more relaxed this year than my first year—helps to have done it before. Things were much the same this year as that previous time, but it struck me quite differently this year.
Without a doubt, the kids’ favorite activity is the rafting. Now, this ain’t just rafting; it’s an paddle upriver to find the pirates and recapture the booty they’ve stolen. This turns into a watergun fight between the Trailblazers and the pirates and everyone ends up in the water (except those that really don’t want to). What turned simple rafting into such great fun? I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s due in large part to one of the pirates, RG. As I write this today, RG is at his Armory and leaves in two days for a year in Iraq with his unit. Everyone would have understood if he stayed home with his family, but he spent last week as a pirate at Youth Camp.
Another team coach, Mrs. H., spent last week at Youth Camp, too. Her husband is in the same unit as RG, but her husband left early as part of the advance party. No one would have faulted her for not coming to camp, but she was there. Likewise, another team coach, AS, was there even though her husband was killed in action earlier this year. It’s been said the Guard is a family. All of the Camp’s volunteer staff demonstrates that, but these three outstanding Americans really brought the point home for me. I’m deeply humbled and honored to have been in their presence last week.
One other thing struck me at Camp. In a dialog session on the Army values the answer to a simple question is more significant than it may seem. When asked who had a parent that had deployed, somewhere between half and two-thirds of the kids raised their hands. These are the unsung heroes. They didn’t volunteer to serve, but they take it in stride.
We have great kids and great citizen-patriots in this country. Most of us tend to think of heroes as being high-profile and people who make some sort of big contribution to the world. Like commentary at USA Today on Parren Mitchell, they can be that and people who make a difference in small ways. Last week I learned it’s the people who only make a difference in small ways that are the true heroes in our midst. I got to spend last week in their company. As we say in the Army, “Hooah!”