VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. –
More than 80 children of Virginia National Guard members attended the 13th annual Virginia National Guard Youth Camp July 23-27, 2018, at Camp Pendleton State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
The Youth Camp provides educational, emotional, social, and community support for the youth and families of the Virginia National Guard. Dependents of current National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are invited to this six day, overnight camp. These National Guard Youth participated in interactive educational sessions and constructive group activities throughout the week.
“We teach a lot of life skills, resilience and leadership,” said Joe Duerksen, Lead Child and Youth Coordinator with Virginia National Guard Family Programs. “We do educational activities and take them offsite to Ocean Breeze and Busch Gardens. It’s just a really fun, active week for National Guard dependents to come together.”
It’s not all fun and games though. Representatives from Nauticus, Mad Science, and Winchester STARBASE Academy provided educational opportunities in robotics, physics, and engineering throughout the week. The theme for this year’s camp was “Heroes Among Us” so in addition to learning how to make a ghillie suit and practicing some of the basics of military drill and ceremony, campers received a first-hand look at some of the vehicles and equipment their parents use while on duty for the National Guard.
“Each year we try to reach out to other partners in the military,” Duerksen said. “We could not hold this camp without the support of our National Guard units. This year we had a great showing from the 34th CST [Civil Support Team] and the 529th CSSB [Combat Sustainment Support Battalion]. The Recruiting and Retention Battalion comes out every year with activities and support of our flag retirement ceremony.”
In addition to the support from military units, Duerksen said the camp also wouldn’t be possible without the support of teen and adult volunteers.
“We have about 30-35 trained, adult volunteers who come out every year,” Duerksen said. “We could not run the program without them. We have some that are volunteering for the first time with us and some who have been here for 11 or 12 years.”
Duerksen said the adult volunteers do everything from chaperoning in the barracks to photography to chaperoning the kids around in groups.
“They are the supervision of the camp,” he explained. “They are also the lifeblood and heartbeat of it. They make sure the kids are safe and having fun.”
In addition to the adults, the camp features a number of high school teens who volunteer, many of whom have been attending the camp since they were kids. The teen volunteers arrive to camp a day early for leadership training and during camp they each get the opportunity to act as leaders and as an extra set of eyes for the adults.
“Each night they meet, they debrief, they talk about the day, they talk about how their leadership skills are impacting their ability to lead the kids,” he said. “They talk about how they can become better leaders in life after camp. They have all just done a fantastic job helping us here at this camp.”
Although heavy rains fell in Virginia Beach through most of the week, it didn’t slow down the camp. Instead they took a number of activities indoors and, according to Duerksen, it was another successful camp.
“This camp is the only camp in Virginia like this and, to my knowledge, the only camp like this on the East Coast that brings together National Guard dependents, Air and Army, from all over the state to show them what the Guard is like,” Duerksen said. “Many of these kids don’t get to see each other throughout the year so this is the only opportunity many of them get to see what our Virginia National Guard community looks like.”