Camp season started this year with a bang as Champ Camp returned! And what a joyous event it was for campers, counselors, pilots, and the Mission Ops staff. While those watching from the outside may have thought the staff was buried in craziness and chaos (and they would have been right!), the truth is we were so energized to be back making sure that 35 campers and two counselors-in-training made it to Wonder Valley near Fresno for a week of “normalcy”!!
When I think back to my first years at AFW, some of my most vivid memories are of summertime and working with the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation to coordinate Champ Camp. Some memories are sad thinking of those who may no longer be with us, some are happy, many are of the work and effort that went into these flights, but all of them include the thrill of knowing AFW was a big part of these kids’ camp experience. If you’ve never flown a camp mission, I suggest you keep your eye out for some. There will be very few camp missions this year but we hope they will all roar back to life next year!
Early in my AFW career while talking with several of our camp organizers, I learned that summer camp for these kids was as important, if not in some cases more important, than regular medical appointments. Some campers come from difficult home situations where the necessary medical care and/or emotional support they need is lacking, while others just need a get-away with other kids they can identify with. While camp is mainly for fun and friendship, these organizations take the time throughout the school year to make sure they are recognizing those kids who could use some extra support with medical attention or other resources. For example, they may send kids home with clothing if that might be an issue. More than anything, these camp organizations provide love and caring camp personnel who give them the emotional support many crave.
Over the years, I have had the good fortune to fly with or interact with many of these young campers. Young Durga, who had been burned over most of her body in a home cooking fire and was brought to the United States for treatment, told me she wanted to go to college and explained how camp gave her time to share her hopes and dreams with others.
I vividly remember the young deaf camper who was gleeful when she realized her flight home was with the young dashing Air Force pilot in a beautiful T-34 club plane. While communicating to her pilot on small pads of paper, she asked if he would do tricks in his plane on the way home! I was firm in my wording to him that any aerobatics in that plane would be a big AFW no-no! He of course assured me it was a USAF no-no as well! In addition, I also remember over twenty years ago, the sad and at the same time uplifting day, I spent at a camp for children with HIV/AIDS.
It is our hope that next year we will be back to “normal” and all of our campers back in the air in your planes heading out for a week of fun, learning, and most of all compassion. After all, compassion is what our AFW volunteers provide on a daily basis, and we thank you all for your continued participation!