WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio --
Twenty-seven Airmen from the 445th Civil Engineering Squadron, spent several weeks in Crystal Springs, Mississippi May 12 – 26, 2018 and May 26 – June 9, 2018 honing their CE skills while helping to build a summer camp for special needs children.
Members of the 445 CES joined Airmen from across the United States to participate in the Innovative Readiness Training program. Six Air Force Reserve Command civil engineer squadrons and four force support units are taking part in the project scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2021.
Innovative Readiness Training or IRT is a program that began under the Clinton administration to use military capabilities in local communities and sharpen their military skills.
After many years of doing IRT projects, Senior Master Sgt. Stacy Gilman, 439th CES, Westover Air Reserve Base, Massachusetts, and the deputy project manager says this project is nothing like he’s experienced before.
“I think [the purpose of the camp] enhances the training… through the church suppers and the Airmen, they’ve met these kids and they see what they’re challenged with, and I think it gives them a better inner drive to get this [camp built],” said the senior NCO in charge of Camp Kamasa.
Camp Kamasa is the passionate work of a mother, driven by a need that once existed for her own child, and that still exists for children around her today.
Mary Kitchens is the executive director and founder of Crystal Spring’s Mississippi Toughest Kids Foundation, MTK. When thinking of what to name the camp, Mrs. Kitchens and MTK leadership sought the council of the Choctaw Nation.
“These kids have a tough quality about them in order to go through every day and we admire that… Kamasa means tough [in Choctaw], to persevere under difficulties, and not quit,” she said.
When one of her sons was diagnosed with kidney cancer at age 3, Mrs. Kitchens explains that his road to recover led to a project, decades in the making, of building a summer camp especially for sick and special needs kids.
“The camps are so important. There’s something very healing for children to be with other children that understand.” Though her son is now in his forties and a successful lawyer, working with sick and special needs kids keeps her drive for this camp going. “You know some of these kids won’t live to next year’s camp… If you can give them that week of feeling special, of being a hero, having people think you’re great, knowing your name, giving you all that attention, it may need to hold you for a year, but it will.”
Sharing that drive are military members from across the U.S. using the camp as training.
Tech. Sgt. Sean Sullivan, 445th CE firefighter, and retired Kentucky firefighter, was one of 12 CE troops participating in a continuous rotation of Guard and Reserve members from across the U.S. He looks forward to what the kids will be able to do once the camp is finished.
“We got to meet several of the kids who will benefit from this camp when it’s done. You get to see the impact that it’s going to have… they’ll get out, be in nature and interact with others and not just be at home with their parents or with caregivers all the time.”
While the purpose for this project has touched the hearts of service members from many different states, 445th CE engineering apprentice Senior Airman Samantha LeFaive, explains that the training she is receiving is building her Air Force future as well.
“Before I came down here I was kind of nervous with all the equipment, but after being in an environment where I have the time to learn and perfect my skills, this is going to help me out tremendously.” Allowing Airmen of all grades to hone their skills and build a camp that will bring smiles to children and adults alike.