Friday, April 3, 2015
On most days, the 10 men standing at the front of the classroom at Camp Mackall are tasked with teaching soldiers how to survive. From building shelter to finding safe food and water, the men prepare troops to leave nothing to chance when stranded in the wilderness or trapped behind enemy lines.
But for one Saturday each year, the soldiers and civilians who teach the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape course show a lighter side for a special class: the Army's Army Children of the Fallen Project. The survival course is part of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.
On a Saturday earlier this month, the men took aside the sons and daughters of fallen soldiers to teach them some of the skills they teach troops. The children are paired - two or three for each instructor - and sent into the woods surrounding the survival course for training on building shelters out of limbs and pine straw, starting fires and tying knots. The instructors show the children how to purify water, identify poisonous wildlife, and shoot bows and arrows.
They were treated to two meals - pizza from Fazoli's and various "critters" from the survival school's Road Kill Cafe.
Gordon Smith, a retired Green Beret command sergeant major who now teaches the survival course, said the soldiers and civilians who work alongside him recognize the day is special, thanks to the sacrifices made by the parents of the children they host. "Our folks definitely look forward to it," Smith said after showing two young girls how to start a fire using several techniques.
"We understand the kids' situation and, probably more so, the moms'," Smith said. "For some, this is the first time they've had a father figure in four years. And we have the perfect training place to do this."
The partnership between the survival course and the Army's Army is in its third year, officials said.
Over the years, the "wilderness boot camp" has been tweaked and improved, Smith said. But it has always been "a lot of fun" for both the children and the instructors. "We're proud to do it," he said.
This year, more than 30 children participated in the boot camp, according to Janine West, executive director of the Army's Army, a nonprofit volunteer organization aimed at supporting those in the military.
"We got the most perfect day," West said at the start of the camp. "We've got a really, really fun day planned for you."
Article by Fayetteville Observer (North Carolina), military editor, Drew Brooks.