Camp looks out for teens on the homefront

By Christina Killion Valdez

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

STEWARTVILLE — Her father’s National Guard service may mean a lot to the country, but to Isabella DiNatale, 12, of Red Wing, it means her dad hasn’t been home for three of her birthdays.

It’s something that her friends may not always understand, but the other 20 teen-agers meeting this week at the Operation Military Kids teen camp at Ironwood Springs Ranch near Stewartville know all too well.

Sadie Sorensen, 14, of Burnsville, Minn., said she was in first grade when her mother was sent for training in Mississippi and Tennessee. Sorensen, who stayed with her grandparents while her mother was gone, said she got sick the day after her mother left.


"I call it ‘Mommy sick,’" she said.

Helping teens like DiNatale and Sorensen connect with other kids who are going through the same things is the focus of the camp, said Michele Koening, Operation Military Kids camping director for Minnesota.

"There used to be little services available like this for kids that don’t live at a base," Koening said.

Yet, as more and more children across the country are being affected because National Guard units are being called on for longer, more frequent deployments, more services have been made available, she said.

Among the campers, who came from across the state, most have a parent, sibling or other loved one in the military, a few are the military kids’ friends who will be their support during deployments.

Operation Military Kids, which is a national partnership of several organizations, also held summer camps for younger kids to help teach them about the deployment cycle, she said. Other events and retreats are held throughout the year.

The camps give the teens the resources they need and a chance to make friends who understand.

At one event, DiNatele tried a MRE, the acronym for the Meals Ready to Eat served to military personnel in the field. It’s something her father most likely ate frequently on his deployments to Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet describing the meal to someone who’s never had one, however, proved challenging.


"There is all this food in a little pack," she said. "It had a shake. It was gross. I didn’t like it."

For more information, go to

Operation Military Kids

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