It happens to most military families. Mom and dad sit down with their children to explain there is a deployment coming up and one or both parents have a lot to do to get ready. Children generally don’t see all the things parents do to prepare or how they live once they’re deployed, but the Luke Air Force Base Airmen and Family Readiness Center hopes to change that by offering a day camp once a year called Operations KIDS.
The fifth annual Operation KIDS took place Saturday and was geared to help children understand the kinds of things parents do when preparing to deploy.
“Operation KIDS is a simulated deployment experience for children,” said Tech. Sgt. Nicole Eisenbarth, A&FRC readiness NCO. “Two hundred children participated in a three-phase deployment process.”
Preparation for the day began at registration a few months prior.
“The registration is an event in itself,” Eisenbarth said. “We have eight career flights the children can be in like medical, explosive ordnance disposal, infantry and others. When they arrived we made it seem like they were going to a recruiter and entering the Air Force. The children were briefed by a representative from each career field and chose the one they wanted.”
Of the careers available, four were Air Force and four were Army. Some career flights filled up quickly so not all the children got the career they wanted.
“This year we partnered with the Army to make it more of a joint environment,” Eisenbarth said. “The EOD, pilot and infantry flights filled up first, so some children made a second choice.”
On the day of the event, after checking in and joining their flights, each child began at station one, out-processing.
“The children started the day by going through a deployment line simulating what their parents do in preparation to leave,” Eisenbarth said. “They went to various stations like legal, the chapel and the military personnel section, during a simulated out-processing.”
Then, just like their parents do, after out-processing they waited to catch a flight to their deployment. The children boarded the “plane” (a bus) and were transported to the Luke ability to survive and operate area where there were activities in which to participate.
“I really liked the archery, the gun shooting and learning the survival tips,” said Breanna Lewis, 14. “This helped me understand what my parents do because it puts you in that environment, and it informs you.”
In the ATSO area, deployers had the opportunity to shoot air soft guns, complete a mind and body challenge, help the Red Cross, and get in and explore many of the vehicles used by emergency services and overseas.
“This year was different from the last couple of years,” Eisenbarth said. “This year we partnered with the Army, and they brought out their vehicles. We also had the Red Cross who helped children understand their roles and how they help. Finally, we had ‘Operation Military KIDS’ come out, which is a group that certifies children on using a GPS. They got to find things around the camp using GPS coordinates.”
Having worked hard during their deployment, the children boarded the bus and headed home. As they pulled up they were greeted by Col. Robert Webb, 56th Fighter Wing vice commander; the Veterans of Foreign Wars; United Service Organization; and members of the community.
“When they return they received a grand greeting,” Eisenbarth said. “Their photo was taken as a group and they received a personalized letter of participation.”
This day helps not just the children but parents as well.
“This was our second Operation KIDS, and it was so much better this year,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Gamilla, 56th Operations Group training management NCO-in-charge. “This year it moved smoothly, and I liked that we didn’t have to do everything. We could pick and choose the events we wanted to participate in.”
Plenty of work went on to make this day possible for the children, especially in the A&FRC.
“We had our first meeting about Operation KIDS in April,” Eisenbarth said. “It takes a lot to coordinate and run this program, but it is worth it.”
The children also had something to say about the event.
“I like the dogs,” said Aiden Gamilla, 5. “But I really liked everything.”
Operation KIDS will skip 2013 and happen again in 2014. For more information on Operation KIDS and other family programs, call A&FRC at (623) 856-6550.