Local kids joining Team Vance for Camp Tomahawk

  • Published
  • By Joe B. Wiles
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Twenty boys and 20 girls from Enid will be honorary members of Team Vance during Camp Tomahawk, June 6-17.

A joint venture between Vance Air Force Base and the Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce, Camp Tomahawk has provided a unique summer camp experience for local children for the past 42 years.

Merchants with the chamber fund the meals and off-base excursions, and Vance AFB provides volunteers and experiences few summer campers get.

The first week will be for the boys, said Capt. Rocque Gartland, an organizer for Camp Tomahawk, and executive officer with the 71st Operations Support Squadron.

Gartland brings a joy for working with children to this year’s Camp Tomahawk, as well as the experience of serving as the assistant organizer last year.

The off-base schedule includes visits to Frontier City and the zoo in Oklahoma City, Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge for crystal digging and 4RKids putt-putt golf course.

“We are issuing each camper a bright yellow T-shirt,” said Gartland. They will be easier to keep track of that way.

A highlight of the camp will be airplane rides from the Enid Woodring Regional Airport provided by Vance AFB simulator instructors, said Gartland. The flights are part of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles program.

The airplane rides have a special impact on the campers, said Gartland. “One of last year’s campers told his classmates, ‘I flew an airplane, I can do anything now.’”

The girls will attend Camp Tomahawk the second week, June 13-17.

“The schedule for the girls is basically the same as for the boys,” said Staff Sgt. Alisha Jones, Camp Tomahawk’s co-organizer and an air traffic controller with the 71st OSS.

“We tailored the schedule so the girls will have time for crafts, making things and learning about nail polish and other girl stuff,” said Jones.

“We learned last year the girls do not like to be outside as much as the boys,” said Gartland. “The boys would play sports for hours. After 30 minutes the girls would circle up in the shade and talk.”

On-base activities for both weeks include static-display aircraft, tours of the fire department and Aerospace and Physiology, a military working dog demonstration and rides in the aircraft simulators.

Nights will be spent in the Community Chapel Activity Center on cots.

“Lights out will come early this year,” said Gartland. “It takes time to wrangle the campers into bed. But once there, they sleep through the night.”

The day shift volunteers tire them out so the night shift has an easier job, he said.

Both Gartland and Jones agree that the key element of Camp Tomahawk’s success is the volunteers.

Jones did not actually volunteer for the organizer job. She was nominated. “I work with Special Olympics and other volunteer opportunities because I love working with children,” she said.

“It is my passion, so anything I can do to make children’s lives happier makes me happy,” Jones said.

For Gartland, whose wife is an elementary school teacher in Enid, Camp Tomahawk was a great experience last year, so he is back for more. “I enjoy working with kids and having an impact on their lives,” he said.

They will need about 30 volunteers total for the two weeks of camp, depending on how long folks can participate each day.

Gartland and Jones will be available at all times to help solve any challenges that arise. But Gartland doesn’t anticipate anything major.

“When volunteers are patient and kind, and show the kids respect, the kids will give that same respect back,” he said.

“If a child is acting up, take them aside and talk it out,” said Gartland. “That way you are providing a good role model and helping them grow.”

Jones has the primary responsibility for recruiting enough volunteers. “Right now we have a handful and are looking for quite a few more, especially for the night shift,” she said.

“I don’t expect any problems getting enough folks to participate. Vance is really good about helping out,” said Jones.

Volunteers can be active duty, family members, contractors or government civilians. And they must pass a background check.

Campers will be picked up Monday morning at the Garfield County Health Department on South Van Buren Street and returned there Friday afternoon. For the five days in between, they will have the experience of a lifetime.

“I met a camper’s parent last year that told me he attended Camp Tomahawk 20 years ago,” said Gartland. “He loved it so much, he wanted his son to go.”

To volunteer for Camp Tomahawk go to http://vols.pt/BXksR1.