Children of military families camp together

There was plenty for the 200 children to do this week at Camp Corral, a five-day event that hosted children of military families at the 4-H Memorial Camp near Monticello.

But it was the taste-testing of various meals ready to eat, or MREs, that may have elicited the most comments.

"I like the coffee," said 9-year-old Caiden Randolph of Johnston City, qualifying his opinion with "I put a whole pack of sugar in it."

But the review from Lorelei Roberts of Green Bay, Wis., was a little more mixed.

"The breadsticks are good. I like them. But I'm not sure about this orange stuff," the 10-year-old said, pointing to the orange drink that came in her MRE.

The camp is one of 18 in four states offered this year by Camp Corral, which have been sponsored by Golden Corral Restaurants since 2011. Registrations from children ages 8 to 15 who are related to a wounded, disabled or fallen service member are given preference for the July 7-12 camp.

At the Monticello camp, activities included tactical movement, slack-line walking, a military trivia contest, making survival bracelets out of parachute cord, face painting, team-building activities, and sitting behind the wheel of a stationary military vehicle.

Thursday was designated "Hero Day," when members of the military were on hand to help man the different activity stations. One of those was Mahomet native Kenny Oliger, a private first class in the Champaign area Army National Guard. His unit does presentations year-round, but he was impressed that Camp Corral kids recognized the vehicular beasts on display, such as the 2.5-ton LMTV troop carrier.

"They're pretty knowledgeable. A lot of them knew what this vehicle was. That doesn't happen that often when we go into the schools," said Oliger, who now lives in Champaign and attends Parkland College.

And while campers are ahead of the curve in their military knowledge, they have no clue how appropriate it is for them to spend a week at the 250-acre 4-H Memorial Camp.

"This place was originally built to be a memorial to past 4-H'ers who lost their lives in World War II. That's what this place is named after," said 4-H Memorial Camp director Curtis Sinclair, adding the land was donated by Robert Allerton for that purpose in 1946.

"So when we got a chance to get involved with an appreciation day for military, it really goes back to the whole purpose of this place," he added.

Participants come from all over the Midwest, so Sinclair said helping them feel like they belong is an important aspect of all camps.

"Nearly every kid has never been here before, and doesn't know anybody, so that sense of that belonging has to happen quick or kids can get overwhelmed," added Sinclair.

"However, military kids are kind of used to getting moved around, and kind of used to being flexible, so it might not be as hard as some groups."

Campers signed up for different clubs based on their interests, and also belonged to one of the "colonies" that were based on the 13 original states. Besides the military-based activities, they took part in the more traditional 4-H camp activities of horseback riding, boating, wall climbing and craft making.

4-H Memorial Camp employee Dasha Hardy of Champaign was all smiles as she greeted kids at her station, going out of her way to say, "I love it. These kids are really great."

It also gave her a gentle reminder that her grandfather had served in Vietnam.

"This really took me back to some of my roots," said Hardy.

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