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Children Of Military Families Experience 'Boot Camp' For A Day

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At the end of the long day, boot campers celebrate "surviving" the USO's Basic Boot Camp at Fort Belvoir.
Armando Trull
At the end of the long day, boot campers celebrate "surviving" the USO's Basic Boot Camp at Fort Belvoir.

Under the beating sun July 20, a seasoned military officer towers over a teen that made a crucial mistake: saying the word, "can't."

"21,22 you're gonna do an extra one cause you used the word 'can't' ... You can," screams the officer leading the drills. "We will motivate you. Let's go!"

At the USO's Basic Boot camp, the organization aims to give children aged 12 to 17 an idea of what their military parents went through when they joined the military. Although basic training typically last one day, "Operation Basic Boot Camp" lasts just one day -- although for some, it might feel like longer.

The officers drilling the teens love pushups and hate the word 'can't. Oh yeah, and smiling, laughing or staring is also a bad idea.

"Do I look like Martin Lawrence to you?" snaps the officer. "No sir. Why are you eyeballing me? I don't know you."

Following directions is important. Kids were told to wear gym shorts. Those who didn't had to pay the price.

"Ten pushups, let's go Michael Jordan," the instructor yells. "You come out here in basketball shorts? This is not the basketball court and it's certainly not an all-star game."

The participants also better know their right from their left.

"Why is your balloon in your right hand, recruit? I said the left hand," shouts the officer. "You'd better pay attention or its going to be a long day for you. Do you understand me?" The tirade yields a hasty, "Yes, sir!" from the recruit.

During another portion of the training program, a huge inflatable obstacle course tripped up many including a lanky teen named Tadd Savidge.

"It's so small, and made for littler people, I think," he says. At 13, Tadd is already standing six feet tall.

There are also lessons on military terms and team building exercises. Austin Greene, 12, explains the flag his team designed. "Right now we're drawing our symbol for our flag for our team," he says. "Our name is brainstorm, so our symbol is a cloud, a lightning bolt, and a brain."

Some kids, including 13-year-old Raven Morris, were overwhelmed by the tough love.

"I was irritated. I guess it was in the morning and I was kind of tired," she says.

Not all the encouragement was shouted. "You gotta show them that you're tough, that you're gonna beat them ... don't let em see you cry, okay?" one instructor says to Raven.

Petty officer Leon Judge is one of the instructors, and says the boot camp is about much more than giving the youth a taste of what their parents endured.

"The most important thing they'll learn from this is perseverance and just the notion that nothing easy's going to come in life," Judge says.

By day's end, Austin Mallone, who thought he couldn't do 25 pushups, and Raven -- who cried -- both said they had learned some important lessons.

"After about 15 I said I can't, so they made me do 26," Austin says. He learned "to not say I can't," he adds.

And what did Raven learn? "Courage, strength ... and that I need to work out more," she says, laughing.

The USO may repeat the program elsewhere in the country.


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