Military dependents pitch their tents at New Orleans zoo

Johnny Morgan, Schexnayder, Kathleen  |  10/1/2009 9:30:16 PM

News Release Distributed 10/01/09

NEW ORLEANS – Military families had a chance to enjoy some quality time together at a camp at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans September 18-19.

Sponsored by Operation Military Kids, the program allowed children and their parents to get back to nature, complete with the sounds of the zoo animals in the background.

Jessica Kirkland, an LSU student and intern with Operation Military Kids, was in charge of the camp. She said the goal was to get military kids connected with others facing family life with a parent deployed in the military.

“Not only is this a time for the kids to make new friends and have some fun, but it is also a time for us to show our appreciation to them and to their parents for what they do,” Kirkland said.

She said the Night at the Zoo camp is one of many similar camps conducted around the state.

“Earlier this month, we had a camp in Baton Rouge, where we spent the night on the USS Kidd. In addition to touring the ship, we also toured the science museum and participated in the Freedom Walk in memory of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks,” she said.

Kirkland said while the children and their parents were at the zoo, they would be doing some crafts, taking a night hike through the zoo and touring various exhibits.

Staff Sergeant Duane Blank, an active-duty Marine who is enrolled at LSU for officer preparation, said this camp is a really great idea.

“I don’t get to spend as much time with my son as I would like. So this is a great opportunity,” Blank said. “They take care of all the logistics, so all we have to do is sign up and go.”

Blank said his situation is probably easier on his son than many other children because the boy was raised in a military home.

“When I have to go, he knows that daddy is gone to work or daddy is gone to his far-away work,” he said.

Kathleen Schexnayder, Louisiana program director for Operation Military Kids said the program is funded through the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Department of Agriculture and is administered in Louisiana through the LSU AgCenter.

The program “started in 2005 and was originally just for National Guard, Reservists and active duty personnel who lived off base,” Schexnayder said.

Alaina Brown of Leesville, the eighth-grade daughter of a National Guard mother, knows first-hand the stress of being a military kid.

“It makes you feel bad not having community connections like other kids,” she said. “This camp helps because you meet people who are kinda like you.”

Additional information on the Operation Military Kids program and upcoming camps is available from Schexnayder at 225-578-2196 or on the LSU AgCenter Web site at lsuagcenter.com.

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Johnny Morgan

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