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Published: Sunday, 10/2/2005

Operation aids kids of soldiers overseas

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Rachel Harris of Pickerington, Ohio, works on her archery skills. Rachel Harris of Pickerington, Ohio, works on her archery skills.
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KELLEYS ISLAND - Coral Randolph and her family don't watch television news reports about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The regular stories of roadside bombs or sniper attacks on U.S. troops are too much to bear for the 12-year-old Fremont girl since her father was called to active duty in Iraq.

"Whenever I hear something like '21 Americans killed in Iraq,' I always think that he better get home soon," she said.

Coral's situation was common among more than 80 children who are spending the weekend camping on Kelleys Island - learning ways to better cope with having a parent who is on active military duty.

"Operation: Military Kids," which was organized by the Ohio State University Extension's 4-H Youth Development Program, was designed for children between the ages of 8 and 18 from throughout Ohio.

The hope is that all the youngsters - who each has a parent called to active duty, about to be deployed, or recently returned - will forge some camaraderie and understanding with one another.

On top of that, they get to spend the weekend playing games, doing archery, and sitting around the campfire on the beach.

Theresa Ferrari, a youth development specialist with OSU Extension, said the camp is meant to address some of the unique problems children in active-duty military families face.

"The whole effort is an attempt to reach out to that group, but we don't dwell on the fact that they have a parent in the military," Ms. Ferrari said. "So far, it's gone very smoothly - no one has visited the nurse and no one has been put back on the ferry."

Gary Wiatt of Akron, left, and Zach Caron of Toledo work together as they navigate a rope during the children's camp on Kelleys Island. Gary Wiatt of Akron, left, and Zach Caron of Toledo work together as they navigate a rope during the children's camp on Kelleys Island.
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Bowsher High School sophomore Zach Caron said he dealt well with his father leaving for Afghanistan, but it was tougher for his 8-year-old sister and 3-year-old brother.

"My little brother and sister cried about it at night because they missed him," Zach said. "But we pulled through like all families."

The 15-year-old said after just one day on the island he could see that the children, especially the younger ones, were being helped by the experience.

"They get a sense that they are not the only ones with a father overseas," he said. "They see that they have support."

Kaitlyn Maxwell, 9, of Rossford joined nearly 25 children yesterday to shoot arrows. With some coaching from a camp counselor, she was able to release an arrow but just missed the target.

Kaitlyn said she was extremely relieved when her father, who is a master sergeant in the Air National Guard, returned from Iraq.

"I really missed him a lot," Kaitlyn said. "The one thing that was really bad was we couldn't talk often."

Sisters Pam and Sam Michael, from Fremont, said other children at their school can't understand the anxiety a military family often feels.

"Most of them don't talk to us about it," said Sam, 10. "Our father calls once a week, so that's the only time we can talk to him."

Eight-year-old Liam Lam and his father took the long drive from Warren County to attend the camp.

Liam, a precocious third grader, said he doesn't hesitate to express his dislike of his dad being called away overseas.

"When he got back, I pounced on him," Liam said. "While he was gone, my mom cried and I felt like crying, but I wouldn't."

His father, Army National Guard Maj. Anthony Lam, was deployed to Kosovo for nine months.

The time away can have a traumatic effect on families, he said.

"My son seemed to understand that I had a job to do for a long time," Mr. Lam said. "He didn't like that I had to go and lets me know on repeated occasions that he does not want me to do that again."

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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