Military and Police

‘Operation Purple’ Help Military Kids Experience Summer Camp

Military kids face sacrifice everyday for our country. They have to say goodbye to family and friends when they move around the country or world. They adjust to new schools, sports, and activities. They hold down the homefront when a parent is away for training or deployed. So how do we say thank you and give these kids the positive experiences they deserve and need to thrive as part of the military family?

The National Military Family Association wants military children to experience the joys and benefits of summer camp. Operation Purple Camp was established to make sure that military kids get that chance without their parents feeling the financial burden.

Children who attend camp as part of Operation Purple Camp will benefit from “an environment with fully trained counselors and camp staff experienced in helping children adapt and overcome the stressors of military life.”

All children connected the military are eligible for camp. Operation Purple Camp also includes children with affiliation with National Guard, Reserve, Coast Guard, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, and the United States Public Health Services Commission Corps.

Special consideration is given to the children of those who have been wounded or ill, as well as those recently or soon-to-be going through a deployment. The program wants to prioritize those who need the additional support they will find through summer camp.

Why summer camp?

The National Military Family Association and Operation Purple Camp recognizes the stress that deployment and military life places on children. In their study of military children, they found that “kids who experience the deployment of a parent often show higher levels of stress and anxiety than their civilian friends.”

These stressors impact younger and older children differently. Younger children experience a change in their routine, but may not have the capacity to process their emotions or communicate their needs. Older children often take on many of the responsibilities of the deployed parent, either due to need or because they feel the need to help out more.

Summer camp allows these children the opportunity to be free of the burdens placed upon them during military life. They are also able to meet other military-connected children. They benefit from sharing their experiences and building community.

What is an Operation Purple Camp like?

Operation Purple Camp partners with 14 existing summer camp facilities and programs all around the United States.

Camp dates and accommodations vary based on availability and individual policies. Some camps can host campers as young as 7 years old. Most reserve one week during each summer as Operation Purple Camp.

Siblings are also able to attend camp together, as space is available. The program requests that parents note how many children they plan to register when applying.

Once a child is accepting through Operation Purple Camp, their family registers and works directly with the host camp to complete all enrollment paperwork. The camp experience that Operation Purple Camp participants have is much like any other camper—outdoor activities, teambuilding, making friends.

They have the added benefit of programming that specifically addresses their needs as military kids. Campers are able to connect with other military kids, building critical support networks that will help them as they face a future in the military community.

Military children with special needs are also given the opportunity to attend camp. Families needing special accommodations work with individual camps to make sure that their child is able to experience camp fully while keeping safety and medical needs in mind.

Younger campers, ages 5-8, are able to attend Operation Purple Buddy Camp with a same gender adult “buddy.” This helps them “provide a one-on-one bonding and resiliency-strengthening experience.” Adult buddies are often parents, grandparents, or guardians. The experience benefits both child and adult buddy.

All of the fun without the bill

Summer camp can be a hefty bill for families to pay. According to an article publishes in Time’s Money section, one parent spent close to $12,000 just on summer camp over 3 summers. The American Camp Association notes that resident camp, where campers stay overnight, average around $630 per week. Day camp is often more affordable, but still averages $200 per week.

Operation Purple allows participants to attend camp completely free of charge. Parents are required to put down a $25 “hold my spot deposit” in the form of a check, which is returned once campers arrive. This service alleviates the financial burden on military families, who are often living on one paycheck or needing to spend money to prepare for military moves or deployments.

What other programs are available?

While summer camp is the heart of the Operation Purple Camp mission, they do not stop there.

Family retreats are also available for those “reconnecting after a deployment, separation or during a time of transition.” The entire family benefits from time and space designed to reestablish family dynamics and create stronger bonds. The military family is often strained from repeat separations and adjustments. Opportunities like family retreats help create a stronger family unit to support a stronger military force.

Healing Adventures offer wounded or ill service members and their families the opportunity to heal through a three-day outdoor experience. These experiences include activities like “hiking and canoeing to encourage each family’s growth on their new journey post-injury.” Recovering from an injury or illness requires all family members to adjust to new routines. Healing Adventures helps everyone in the family move towards the future.

Since its founding in 2004, Operation Purple Camps have provided free camp weeks to almost 60,000 children. These camps provide both recognition for the sacrifices that military children make as well as important skill-building opportunities that will serve them in the future.

Katie Begley

Katie Begley is a US Naval Academy graduate and former Surface Warfare Officer. In addition to being a military spouse, she is a freelance writer specializing in travel, education, and parenting subjects. Katie has worked in numerous communications roles for volunteer organizations and professionally for a local parenting magazine.

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