The 200th RED HORSE Squadron (200RHS), an Ohio Air National Guard unit based out of Camp Perry and its Detachment in Mansfield, is conducting a Deployment for Training (DFT) to assist in the construction of Mississippi’s first fully accessible year-round camp facility for children and adults with serious illness, physical and mental challenges, and other special needs through the Department of Defense’s Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) Program.
Capt. Ashley Klase, 200 RHS Engineer, said over 80 Airmen from the squadron have split into two rotations this spring in an effort to support the ongoing IRT project. “As part of rotation 2, we’re here to work on the vertical structures, building cabins and excavating for roads and a bridge.” Klase added, “Our 43 Airmen accomplished a lot over two short weeks and we feel privileged to be a part of something that will affect the lives of thousands of children and their families in the future.”
IRT is a Department of Defense (DoD) military training opportunity, exclusive to the United States and its territories, that delivers joint training opportunities to increase deployment readiness. Simultaneously, IRT provides key services with lasting benefits for our American communities.
The project is beneficial to the Airmen by providing hands-on, real-world training to improve readiness and survivability in contingency environments. Throughout the duration of this IRT project, 200RHS members are completing the construction of eight cabins and a multi-use building (to include electrical and plumbing installation and connections); the repair, improvement and continuation of existing roadways; bridge abutments and installation of a 90-foot rail car bridge.
The 200th RHS has volunteered to take the first two rotations of this massive project that will continue into the fall with plans for the IRT involvement to complete in 2020. After the 200th RHS, other units will step in for their rotations. Individuals representing 13 states will take their turns descending on the small community of Crystal Spring, Miss. All in a joint effort to see the dream of Camp Kamassa come to life.
Chief Master Sgt. Stacy Gilman, 560th RED HORSE Squadron, Joint Base Charleston, S.C., has been assigned as the Senior Non-Commissioned Officer in charge of the project for the duration of the planned 3 year, 26 million dollar IRT project. Gilman said, “This is the start of year two of the three-year project. The 200th RED HORSE has done an outstanding job providing the upright construction for the cabins here and building onto the infrastructure that was started here last year.”
The Camp Kamassa IRT project will be a collaborative effort of individuals representing multiple service components and military units to include both the Air National Guard and Reserves as well the United States Marine Corp Reserves. Other units scheduled to contribute this year are the 914th Civil Engineering Squadron, Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, N.Y.; 439th CES, Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass.;117th CES, Ala. ANG; 452nd CES, March Air Reserve Base, Calif.; 433rd CES, Air Reserve Station, Kelly Field Annex, Joint Base San Antonio, Texas; 184 CES, McConnell Air Force Base, Wichita, Kan., 148th CES, Duluth, Minn. ANG, and the United States Marine Corps Reserves from La. There are individuals representing 13 states descending on the small community of Crystal Spring, Miss. All in a joint effort to see the dream of Camp Kamassa come to life.
1st Lt. Eric Arnold, 172nd Airlift Wing, Jackson, Miss., is also working with Chief Master Sgt. Gilman providing project oversight for the duration. Arnold said, “During this rotation the focus was on the upright construction for the cabins and we just completed setting a bridge. The 200th RHS started out this year strong and we plan to follow up with Prime Beef units throughout the year.”
While completing valuable military training for all units involved, the project is also in support of a non-profit organization, “Mississippi’s Toughest Kids Foundation.”
During 2008, a group of long-time volunteers for Camp Rainbow, a summer camp for pediatric cancer patients, began discussing the need for the construction of a camping facility for chronically ill children in the State of Mississippi. The idea was to build a “super” camp designed uniquely for children with all special needs. So, began the dream of Camp Kamassa.
Ms. Mary Kitchens, founder of MTKF expressed her gratitude to Airmen gathered for a dinner organized by the supportive local community.
“Having you all here is making it possible for children all over the state and Louisiana, we’re closer to New Orleans where the children’s hospital is, than the camps that are being offered in Louisiana, so we’ll be drawing from Louisiana and all over the state. There will be thousands of children who are looking forward to coming to this camp, they’ll be running around or being pushed around and just having a good time.” Kitchens added, “You’re really doing something that’s eternal…something that’s going to last forever, because this camp is going to last forever. It’s going to be such a blessing to the lives of children, as well as their parents and their families and I hope it’s a blessing to you too for you to be a part of it because you’re certainly blessing us by being here and we’re very thankful and want to make sure you know that.”
Mississippi has never had a camp devoted solely to children with special needs, although there are many groups around the state who have worked to hold camps for these kids, they often lacked the accommodations needed to host many special needs children as they simply were not designed for them exclusively.
Camp Kamassa plans to be used by thousands of campers with various illnesses and challenges including, but not limited to asthma, spina bifida, cancer, HIV, muscular dystrophy, diabetes, brain injuries, hemophilia, Tourette syndrome, autism, transplant recipients, kids in foster care, arthritis, visual and hearing impairments, developmental disabilities, bereavement, sickle cell disease, Celiac disease, Crohn’s and colitis, and so much more.
This single facility ensures the availability of prime summer weeks to these groups, cooperative effort in programming, volunteer recruitment and solicitation of donated goods. Costs will be cut through group purchasing of medical supplies, crafts and other programs supplies, insurance and food. The facility itself will be designed to meet the needs of all the campers. The staff will be specifically trained to work with the unique needs of the campers, ensuring an equal camping opportunity for all children.
Often other facilities don’t have an infirmary, making the job of the nurses very difficult. Usually there aren’t more than one or two toilet stalls or showers large enough for a child needing assistance. Other camps lack sidewalks connecting all the buildings and leading to activities, making it hard for children in wheel chairs, those using walkers, or the blind to move around camp. Pool access can be a serious challenge to some.
The 200RHS is working with MTKF to accommodate the special design needs of the cabins.
IRT Project Manager, Tech. Sgt. Justin Bell, said the project is progressing well and expressed gratitude for the opportunity to be a part of the cause, “We are honored to be a part of this project, we believe in Mississippi Toughest Kids vision for this camp and we are doing everything we can in our power to meet the needs of these kids,” Bell added, “Ensuring things are ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant, such as ensuring the proper with of door openings and handicap accessible bathrooms, these will be custom cabins specifically intended to meet their needs.”
The Airmen have expressed the benefits of supporting this mission as well. Airman First Class Chase Gardull, promoted to Senior Airman at a ceremony held at the job site and said, “This project has been not only eye opening for me but humbling and very rewarding. seeing the vertical construction going up and we have a purpose for what we’re doing especially meeting some of these kids that will be benefiting from it, gives you an extra boost of confidence and motivation to work these long hard days for something bigger than ourselves.” Gardull added, “It’s really rewarding for myself and I think I speak for everyone here.”
Note : The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.
Photos: Taken by TSgt Joseph Harwood – Public Domain