- The Washington Times - Monday, July 25, 2005

DAHLONEGA, Ga. (AP) — The crackers weren’t so bad.

But 11-year-old Megan Canter didn’t have much of an appetite for the minestrone MRE she whipped up for a military-style lunch at summer camp.

“It was disgusting,” she said of the “meal ready to eat.”

Flavor aside, the meal was a small way for Megan to connect with her dad, Sgt. Chuck Canter, who is serving with the Army National Guard’s 48th Infantry Brigade in Iraq.

Megan was one of 22 children at a special summer camp at the Wahsega 4-H Center, tucked away in the northern Georgia mountains. The camp is designed for the 11- to 15-year-old children of deployed military parents, mostly National Guard members and reservists serving in Iraq.

Organizers say the camps are a way to help the children of guardsmen and reservists deal with the fear, anxiety and confusion about their parents’ potentially dangerous missions in far-off lands.

“We call them the ‘suddenly military’ kids,” said Sharon Gibson, camp coordinator from the University of Georgia’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences. “They don’t have a peer group to really bounce things off of, and they’re not like active-duty military kids, who are more used to their parents coming and going.”

With the May deployment of the Georgia-based 48th Brigade to Iraq, there are more of those children in this state than in any other time in recent memory. With 4,000 troops, the brigade is the largest combat unit of Georgia National Guard troops to deploy in wartime since World War II.

During the height of the 2003 Iraq invasion, about 224,000 National Guard members and reservists from all military branches nationwide were mobilized. That figure now stands at 138,000, according to the Pentagon. The National Military Family Association estimates that 140,000 children have a parent deployed in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

The weeklong camp held this month in Georgia cost the participants just $25 and was funded largely by the national Operation Military Kids — a collaboration of the military, state and county cooperative extension offices, the 4-H Club and Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

In many ways, it mirrored a typical 4-H camp. Campers played Frisbee, attended a dance and panned for gold in Dahlonega, the mountain town home to the nation’s first gold rush in the 1800s.

But this camp started when campers formed “units.” Each day started with PT — or physical training — at 6:30 a.m. and ended with a flag ceremony complete with the playing of taps.

“It gives me an idea of what my daddy had to go through for boot camp,” said Megan, of Tignall, Ga. “I wouldn’t have made it.”

Also, discussion sessions gave campers a chance to talk with counselors and campers who have had similar experiences.

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