McKinney serves as trainer, advisor, couselor

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Emily Beightol-Deyerle
  • 167AW/PA
The camper stands at attention. He knows the TAC is directly behind him. He knows he did not follow the direction he was given. He closes his eyes and holds his breath anticipating the verbal lashing he's about to receive.
"Let it sink in camper, let-it-sink-in" Master Sgt. Kelley McKinney said.
And she walks away. The camper opens his eyes, exhales and lets it sink in.
McKinney has been a TAC (trainer, advisor and counselor) for the West Virginia National Guard's Youth Leaders Camp for six years.
As a TAC, she leads one of four platoons of approximately 20 teenagers through a week-long, military-style camp, geared toward building confidence and instilling leadership skills.
According to the camp director, Capt. Alan Tackett Jr., the Youth Leaders Camp was started 46 years ago. "The purpose of the camp is to give kids a taste of the military, to help build their confidence and show every kid that there is something they are good at," Tackett said.
Adding: "And ultimately to help kids decide whether or not they want to join the military."
YLC challenges the campers with mentally and physically demanding activities. The campers start each morning with physical fitness training and then breakfast. After that, their attention to detail is tested as they are required to organize their bunk in the barracks with military precision. Folding the sheets on their beds with 45 degree angles at the corners, aligning their shoes perfectly flush under their beds and draping their painstakingly folded towels dead center over their bed rail.
The campers march to and from many of their events through the week which include team building challenges, an obstacle course, water survival training, wall rappelling and the rifle range.
When the campers aren't busy with a specific activity they are required to study a book they are given on the first day of camp. The book includes information such as rank structure, the phonetic alphabet as well as customs and courtesies. The campers are tested on the information later in the week.
It's tough to be a camper, but, as Tackett explained, it is also tough to be a TAC.
"They spend 15 hours a day with the kids and then the TACs have a staff meeting after that."
McKinney agreed that being a TAC is physically challenging, but she said the real challenge is making sure the lessons they are teaching get through to the campers.
"I want to give meaning to the discipline," McKinney explained. "Bringing in the life lesson, teaching the kids why something is wrong and relating it to situations outside of the camp environment is the real challenge." According to Tackett, McKinney is one of the best TACs at the camp.
"Her ability is unparalleled," he said.
"She's very professional, she's dedicated and she really cares about the kids," he added.
McKinney credits other TACs - Master Sgt. Ramey Stokes, Master Sgt. Jason Lopez, and Lt. Jacqueline Albright - with molding her into an effective TAC.
"I've learned a lot from them," McKinney said. "We all have different approaches. Some of us yell, some of us are what we call angry whisperers, but the important thing is we care about the kids and we want to see them grow."
McKinney said seeing the change in the kids in six days is one of her favorite things about the camp.
"The kids are put in situations that put them outside of their comfort zone," McKinney explained. "They learn their strengths and in some cases, their weaknesses, but they excel and learn and they come together as a team."
"I love seeing the kids who don't think they can do something, but then they try and they succeed. Their confidence builds and they learn how to be leaders. I'm getting to help build the next generation of leaders," she added.
McKinney said she would definitely encourage others to get involved. Her experience as a TAC at the Youth Leaders Camp is the most rewarding thing she has done in her career.
"Being involved makes me want to be a better NCO (non-commissioned officer), because I want to earn and deserve the respect that they (the campers) give me," McKinney said.
Adding: "I leave the camp each year feeling like I want to be the best TAC and NCO and parent and friend that I can be."
Tackett may have summed it up best when he said, "Her platoon will remember her forever. That's the kind of impact she has on the kids."