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Operation Purple reconnects children, parents after deployments

Capt. Gregory Izdepski (center) and his family, Brent Wyatt (front), Jessica Wyatt (center right) and Alec Wyatt (back) take a lunch break in the Grand Teton National Park during Operation Purple Military Family Retreat March 20 in Jackson, Wyo. The camp, sponsored by National Military Family Association, is free and designed for families to reconnect after a parent has been deployed. (Courtesy photo)

Capt. Gregory Izdepski (center) and his family, Brent Wyatt (front), Jessica Wyatt (center right) and Alec Wyatt (back) take a lunch break in the Grand Teton National Park during Operation Purple Military Family Retreat March 20 in Jackson, Wyo. The camp, sponsored by National Military Family Association, is free and designed for families to reconnect after a parent has been deployed. (Courtesy photo)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AFNS) -- It wasn't a typical cross country skiing race where skill and speed are factors. In this race, it was all about cooperation.

Three children and two parents, lined up like a caterpillar with their hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them, inching along in unison and trying not to trip one another while racing toward the finish line.

"We all really worked well together, I noticed," said Alec Wyatt, 11, who won that ski relay with his teammates -- brother Brent Wyatt, 17, sister Jessica Wyatt, 13, and parents Karen and Capt. Gregory Izdepski. The ski race was one of dozens of events at Operation Purple Military Family Retreat in Jackson Wyo., March 19 to 23 designed specifically for military families to reconnect after one or both parents have been deployed.

Captain Izdepski of the Rapid Reaction Squadron at Air Force Space Command had been deployed from June 2009 to January 2010.

"I enjoyed getting outside again with the family," Captain Izdepski said.

His family spent five days in the Grand Teton National Park, which is just south of Yellowstone National Park. They saw moose, elk, big horn sheep and even spied on trumpet swans late at night by moonlight. They hiked, skied and played games.

"As soon as I read about (the camp), I knew that it was totally for our family," said Mrs. Izdepski, the sexual assault response coordinator assistant at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. "I think the winter months scare some people away, but we love snow activities."

Operation Purple started in 2004 with the slogan, "Kids serve too!" Sponsored by the National Military Family Association, Operation Purple includes family retreats and summer camps. To date, more than 30,000 military children have participated in Operation Purple programs.

The family retreat in Wyoming included hiking, skiing, visiting a wildlife refuge and night hiking.

"I loved the location," Brent said. "It was such a beautiful place. The Tetons are just gorgeous."

A key aspect of the Operation Purple program is allowing military children to talk about how they feel about a parent's deployment. At Operation Purple Camp in Wyoming, military family life consultants checked in with all of the families to make sure everyone was handling deployments and the stress that can come with it. At camp Shady Brook this summer, military officers will talk with children about their role in their parents' deployments.

"National Military Family runs an absolutely amazing program," Ms. Izdepski said. "We got backpacks, hats water bottles, purple wrist bands; everything was first rate. It was not only an opportunity for us to be together, but they checked in on us. It was definitely taking care of families in that regard."

Jessica said she liked all the games that her family played and the time the family spent together.

"My mom actually said at the end, I'm going to miss seeing so much of you guys because usually we get home and we spread out and do our individual things," Jessica said. "But, with this we got to spend so much time together, all the time. That was fun."

Camp Shady Brook is located on 140 acres in the Pike National Forest. Sign up online at www.militaryfamily.org, click on programs, Operation Purple Camps, traditional camps, Sedalia, Colo. The camp is limited to 110 youth.

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