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Things Worth Fighting For

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  • Things Worth Fighting For

    At camp, military kids bear scars of their own
    By Andrea Stone, USA TODAY
    SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, Calif. Twilight fell over the mountain camp as the group formed a circle to trade war stories: the nightmares of battle that wake them in their sleep. The fighting. The pain. The surgeries. And always, the sudden mood swings.

    "Sometimes, we feel like we have to run away," Alex Cox says.

    "The military's stupid!" Adam Briggs declares.

    PHOTOS: Kids of wounded gather at first camp of its kind

    Alex, 13, and Adam, 12, have never been to war, but they are no strangers to the ravages it can inflict. Their fathers were injured in Iraq. Like 13 other boys and girls ages 7 to 14 at an unusual summer camp this week for children of injured troops, they are in a generation indelibly marked by war.

    Nearly 19,000 U.S. children have had a parent injured in the military since Sept. 11, 2001, the Pentagon says. They are lucky compared with the 2,200 kids whose parents have been killed in Afghanistan or Iraq. But as the U.S. approaches its sixth year at war, the impact of battlefield injuries and frequent deployments on troops' families not just the troops themselves is increasingly clear.

    "Wounded servicemembers have wounded family members," says Michelle Joyner of the National Military Family Association (NMFA), which runs the camp.

    In some ways, the camp in the Cleveland National Forest which includes 61 other kids whose parents are serving in the war was like any summer camp: a place for kids to be kids. After arriving Saturday, the campers went swimming, climbed trees, rode horses, sang silly campfire songs and ate parflesnarfs, a gooey concoction of melted chocolate, marshmallows and popcorn.

    But at this camp, there were shades of the military lifestyle. Cabin groups were named like military companies: Alpha, Bravo, Charley. On Monday, the kids went to a beach luau at nearby Camp Pendleton, where Marines let them climb into amphibious landing crafts and handle machine guns.

    And each day, there was "quiet time," a chance to sit and talk about the problems each child is here to escape.

    Unlike at school or at home, "kids don't have to explain themselves," says Joyner, whose group received permission from the children's parents for them to speak with a reporter. "They're with a group of their peers."

    Camper Savannah Jacobs, 11, came to camp from the Marine base at Twentynine Palms, Calif. She says she is "sad" that her stepfather, Marine Sgt. Jose Ramirez, hasn't been able to ride a bicycle with her and her sister, Sierra, 9, since he was injured in a helicopter crash in Iraq last December.

    Rest of article here,