Camp in King shows children of military families they aren’t alone

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Jim Myers, commander of the Nathanael Greene Base of the United States Submarine Veterans, instructs campers at Camp Corral on the workings of a submarine. (Andrew Dye/Journal)

KING, N.C. — Superman and Spider-Man are cool, but Hannah McDermott said she knows who the real heroes are, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

“A hero is someone who makes sacrifices, like my parents,” Hannah, 11, said Wednesday. “They’re both in the Army and my dad, an air jumper, broke his back protecting our country.”

Hannah was one of 229 campers at Camp Corral at YMCA Camp Hanes in King. Camp Corral is a weeklong summer camp for children of wounded, disabled or fallen military service members.

Ranging between 8 and 15 years old, the kids have had more than their share of struggles growing up in military families.

“One time my mom was supposed to go to Afghanistan and I was so scared I was never going to be able to see her again,” Hannah, from Fayetteville, said. “People here understand what that’s like.”

Malachi Velazquez, 13, said getting to meet people in similar family situations is what he likes most about camp.

“At school I don’t have any friends that have military parents, so they don’t understand,” said Malachi, whose father is in the Army. “It feels good knowing I’m not alone and makes me feel proud that my dad’s serving our country.”

Malachi, from Bluefield, W.Va., attended the camp with his brother and two sisters.

The campers came from all across the South to participate in the Stokes County camp, said Val Elliott, the executive director of YMCA Camp Hanes. There, the kids get a chance to just be kids, participating in such activities as archery, fishing, canoeing and swimming and, more important, taking a break from the challenges that come with being a military kid.

YMCA Camp Hanes is one of 20 camps in the U.S. partnering with Camp Corral. This is its first year as a part of the program.

The camp is free for families, financed through money raised by Golden Corral restaurants in raffles, pancake and spaghetti dinners, kids’ carnivals and classic car shows.

Golden Corral founder James Maynard created the camp in 2011 in an effort to recognize the service of veterans and active military members.

“When you think about military families, it really is a family unit that is serving our country,” Elliott said. “The parents do the service, but it’s the kids that make the sacrifice.”

Of the more than 2.1 million American men and women who have been deployed since 2001, approximately 44 percent of those are parents.

When camp counselors asked for a show of hands from campers who had moved more than five times, nearly every kid raised a hand.

Charlene Walker, a member of the U.S. Air Force, said she knows exactly what the kids are going through. Her mother, father and stepfather were all in the military when she was a child and were deployed.

“I can totally relate to these kids because it’s hard changing schools so many times and living with the uncertainty,” Walker, 23, said. “I think a camp like this really helps them realize there’s others like them.”

As a part of the camp’s “Hero Day” Wednesday, members of the U.S. Army, Marine Corps and Air Force joined in the camp fun. As they entered the room, the kids’ eyes grew like saucers and their grins stretched ear-to-ear.

The military representatives spent the afternoon playing games with the kids, but Walker said their main purpose was just to be there as role models and to provide support.

Some World War II veterans also came for the day, telling the kids about their experiences in submarines.

Alyssa Roesch, 11, from Huntersville, said that “Hero Day” was her favorite day so far. She said she liked meeting all the heroes who, like her stepfather, are serving the country.

“My stepdad’s a big hero because he risked his life and got hurt by a stryker,” Alyssa said, referring to an eight-wheeled, armored military vehicle. “He’s done so much to keep our country safe. I’m so proud of him.”