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Youths attend 8th annual Wisconsin Youth Camp at McCoy Aug. 11-13

By Capt. Jacqueline Guthrie, 84th Division Public Affairs

FORT MCCOY, Wis. -- At least 200 young people will have something exciting to share at school this fall when asked, "What did you do during your summer vacation?"

The youths, sons and daughters of Wisconsin servicemembers, are recent graduates of the eighth Annual Wisconsin Youth Camp. Held annually at Fort McCoy, the youth camp is sponsored by the Wisconsin National Guard's Family Program and took place Aug. 11-13.

"The purpose of the program is to give kids the opportunity to see what their parents do on a drill weekend," said Lt. Col. Ken Grant, youth camp director. Participants, ages 8 to 17, get a taste of the military by marching, rappelling, eating in a military dining facility, sleeping in Army barracks or tents and even doing push-ups for drill sergeants, Grant said.

But this three-day summer camp wasn't all work. The youths also had the opportunity to complete a confidence course, ride in a military personnel carrier, swim in the pool or lake and participate in a variety of sporting activities.

"It's a lot of fun," said Stacie Ringelstetter, 17. Ringelstetter is the daughter of Master Sgt. Brian and Sarah Ringelstetter. Ringelstetter has spent the last seven summers at youth camp and said she wouldn't miss it. In addition to the confidence she's gained through participating in challenging activities such as rappelling, she said she's made friendships she thinks will last a lifetime. And while this is her last year as a camper, she says, "I'll still be back next year as a counselor."

While the Wisconsin National Guard sponsors the program, Grant says it is only possible because of the more than 200 volunteers, thousands of dollars worth of donations and the hard work of soldiers and airmen. Among those providing support are 84th Division (Institutional Training), U.S. Army Reserve drill instructors.

"They provide an added touch to the entire program," Grant said. And the kids love it.

The drill instructors are from 3rd Battalion, 274th Regiment in Oshkosh; 2nd Battalion, 274th Regiment in Fond du Lac; and 2nd Battalion, 339th Regiment in Madison. All are part of the 84th Division's 2nd Brigade (Basic Combat Training) headquartered in Beaver Dam. This is the third year the drill sergeants have taught at camp, Grant said.

"The drill instructors added another dimension to our training," making it more realistic, he explained. The drill instructors' job includes teaching drill and ceremony and physical training to the participants. They also run activities such as the conditioning and confidence course, rappelling and rope bridge crossings. And they help the youth groups form teams instead of working as individuals.

"It's similar to pick-up and the first couple weeks of basic training," said Sgt. Phil Heckl, an 84th Division drill sergeant, referring to the phase of basic combat training when the drill instructors start training new soldiers. One of the 84th Division's Army missions is to teach basic combat training to new soldiers at Army installations such as Fort Knox, Ky., and Fort Benning, Ga.

"That's what we're trying to do," Heckl explained, "teach them the basics."

The 84th Division's involvement in the camp is part of an ongoing partnership with the Wisconsin National Guard, according to Capt. Larry Gnewuch. Gnewuch is commander of Company B, 2nd Battalion, 339th Regiment. "We do a lot of missions with the Wisconsin National Guard," he explained, including helping the Guard run a delayed entry training program for new soldiers preparing for basic training.

"It's perfect in that it gives our drill sergeants people to instruct," Gnewuch said of the partnership. Otherwise they would be trying to improve their teaching techniques by teaching each other. This is much more effective, he stressed.

However, the 84th Division's involvement wasn't limited to providing drill instructors, some soldiers also gave up their free time and volunteered to be counselors, such as 1st Sgt. Laurel Weyenberg, 3rd Battalion, 274th Regiment. "I love kids, I love being around them," Weyenberg said. This was her first year as a camp counselor, and she says she really enjoyed it.

Weyenberg was just one of more than 200 servicemembers, parents and camp graduates that made the program possible by serving as counselors, activity leaders, medics, security guards, cooks or staff.

"The success of the program is due to the volunteers," Grant said. While participants pay a $25 registration fee, the funds don't cover what it would cost to pay for all the personnel and resources needed to run the camp.

(The 84th Division (IT), is headquartered in Milwaukee and has subordinate units and soldiers throughout the states of Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Iowa, and Indiana. As an institutional training division, the 84th currently performs a variety of missions in support of the Army school system, also known as TASS. Missions include providing basic combat training and infantry one station unit training to new soldiers and officer training to ROTC cadets. The division personnel also train active- and reserve-component servicemembers in combat-service, combat-service-support, health services and professional-development courses. For more information about the 84th, visit www.84thdivision.com.)

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