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Minnesota National Guard
Ready for reunion

Each picture Zachary Slininger drew on an outline of his hand details a way he helps while his dad is in Iraq

The 6-year-old's construction-paper fingers show him painting, feeding the dog, vacuuming, grocery shopping and praying

He made the project Tuesday at a day camp for children who have parents deployed with the Minnesota National Guard

Camp Noah: A Soldier's Coming Home" is a five-day faith-based camp designed to help kids like Zachary prepare for their parents' upcoming return from Iraq

The camp, held at Trinity Lutheran Church in Moorhead, also gives children a chance to be with other kids in the same situation

"It feels like I'm the only kid with a dad who's a Soldier," said Zachary, who lives in Barnesville, Minn, with his mother, Corinne Slininger, and his 9-year-old sister, Ashley

Corinne Slininger said she brought her children to the camp for just that reason The deployment of her husband, John, has been difficult

"It's been almost a grieving process for my son," she said

Minnesota Army National Guard Soldiers are now coming home in waves after being on active duty for nearly two years More than 2,600 Minnesota Guard members, including several hundred from this area, were mobilized in fall 2005 and deployed to Iraq in March 2006

At Minnesota National Guard headquarters and other agencies, massive efforts are under way to help prepare families and Soldiers for the reintegration process

"Camp Noah: A Soldier's Coming Home" is put on by Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota It's also taking place this week in Baxter Camps are planned next month in Bloomington and Rochester

At the Moorhead camp, about 15 children in kindergarten through sixth grade are doing arts and crafts, writing in journals and playing games The camp started Monday and ends Friday

As the kids play, counselors try to instill hope and help the children identify talents and skills, build on the resiliency they've shown and rely on their faith

"Five, six, seven, our skills and talents reach to heaven," counselors prompted a group of children to chant just before snack time Tuesday morning

Faith Hurajt, 7, of Fargo sat with legs splayed on two other chairs She was saving the seats for buddies

"It's fun," Hurajt said "The crafts that we do We draw pictures in our journals, we made name tags and we learned about hope"

The camp is an offshoot of Camp Noah programs originally created for children who have experienced disaster

James V Gambone, the statewide coordinator and creator of "Camp Noah: A Soldier's Coming Home," said his research was based partly on interviews with 10 Minnesota National Guard families with children the age of camp participants and eight other families who went through extended deployments

He also interviewed teenagers who experienced their parents' deployments and worked with a mother and daughter who wrote a children's book about dealing with deployments

The result, he said, is a camp "based on real experiences that parents and children have faced dealing with the issues of reunion and reintegration"

Children have taken different responsibilities during the deployment, and they may be anxious about how their roles will change when their parent returns, Gambone said

The initial reunion can cause children to worry about what they'll say, or what they should wear, he said

"It's getting the kids to talk about those kinds of " those simple things " to help prepare them for the reintegration of a very important person in their lives back into their lives," Gambone said

Aliyah Beyer, 7, said she is learning at camp about Iraq and when her father's going to come home, along with prayer, stories and music

"It makes me not feel like I'm the only one that has a dad in Iraq," she said "It makes me feel happy"

When are they coming home?

More than 2,600 Minnesota Army National Guard Soldiers left in fall 2005 for training at Camp Shelby, Miss, and then Iraq After an extension in March, the troops are coming home in waves this summer

Area Soldiers are expected to arrive at Fort McCoy, Wis, in mid- to late July, the Minnesota National Guard says They are from the 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 136th Infantry

That includes:

- More than 190 Soldiers from the Moorhead and Fergus Falls-based Headquarters Company

- More than 150 Soldiers from the Bemidji and Detroit Lakes-based A Company

- More than 140 Soldiers from the Crookston and Thief River Falls-based B Company

By Andrea Domaskin, In-Forum
June 27, 2007

Source: www.in-forum.com

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