W. VA. National Guard holds 24th annual Kids Kamp

Campers at the West Virginia National Guard Kids Kamp salute the flag during a ceremony at Camp Dawson, W. Va.. The camp, which was held July 12-17, celebrated its 24th year of educating military children. The program began in 1991 as a way to help children of Guardsman, who were deployed in support of Operation Desert Storm, better understand the military. (Air National Guard photo courtesy of Sherry Lewis)

Campers at the West Virginia National Guard Kids Kamp salute the flag during a ceremony at Camp Dawson, W. Va.. The camp, which was held July 12-17, celebrated its 24th year of educating military children. The program began in 1991 as a way to help children of Guardsman, who were deployed in support of Operation Desert Storm, better understand the military. (Air National Guard photo courtesy of Sherry Lewis)

Volunteer counselors help campers perform proper military pull-ups at the 24th Annual West Virginia National Guard Military Kids Kamp. The camp is open
to children of West Virginia National Guard members between the ages of 9 and 14. (Air National Guard photo courtesy of Sherry Lewis.)

Volunteer counselors help campers perform proper military pull-ups at the 24th Annual West Virginia National Guard Military Kids Kamp. The camp is open to children of West Virginia National Guard members between the ages of 9 and 14. (Air National Guard photo courtesy of Sherry Lewis.)

Martinsburg W.Va. -- The West Virginia National Guard's 24th annual Kids Kamp, July 12-17 at Camp Dawson, W.Va., continued its long-standing legacy of providing an engaging environment while educating kids on military culture.

The camp, is designed to give military children a small taste of what their parents experience while serving in the military.

According to Capt. Christopher Tusing, the 167th wing executive staff officer and first time camp counselor, the camp strikes an excellent balance between educating the campers on military culture while still keeping it fun and engaging. They are educated about the flag, how to properly make a bunk, and how to form-up and march. Some repeat campers even craft their own Jodie calls to sing while marching.

The campers, ages 9-14 are broken into multiple teams when they arrive and are assigned male and female volunteers to act as their counselor throughout the week, Tusing said. The campers are engaged in activities at a high pace up until the closing ceremonies.

"Everything is infused with fun and activities; from a rock climbing wall to a rappelling tower," Tusing said. "To see some of the little kids going down the tower was just amazing."

In addition to the military culture that the campers are exposed to, they were also educated on West Virginia history and wildlife and taught the basics of archery and firearm safety. One of the main lessons of the camp was how to navigate and avoid the pitfalls of drugs, a message made clear by the camps slogan, "Drug free starts with me."

When everything is said and done, the main goal of the camp is to increase the campers understanding and connection with their parents' military service; a task that Tusing feels it accomplishes quite well.

"I think it helps them connect on a deeper level with their parents who have served or are still serving in uniform," Tusing said.

While the camp is open to children of all West Virginia National Guard members, in recent years the 167th has had a smaller presence, in terms of camper attendance and volunteer counselor participation.

"I want to try and get more recruits from the 167th down there next year [as counselors]," Tusing said. "More importantly, I would like to get more of our children involved in this program so they can have the same opportunities that others across the state are having. This camp was top notch and I would love to see us more plugged into it."

According to Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, the West Virginia adjutant general, Kids Kamp, which was created in 1991 to give the children of West Virginia National Guard member deployed to Iraq a chance to relate to their parents, is a valuable program for the guard to support.

"It helps us to continue to foster those family relationships within the guard that we believe are so important to our success," Hoyer said. "We are only as good as our family and the fact that we treat our people like family."