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New 'Operation Purple''Provides Family Retreats

Samantha Quigley, Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs

Military families participate in one of two National Military Family Association Operation Purple family retreats, a pilot program, in March 2009. The retreats helped families reconnect after a service member's return from deployment. Samantha Quigley

WASHINGTON -04.22.2009

It's no secret that deployments put stress on a family, and the National Military Family Association has developed a new "Operation Purple" program at no cost to military families.

The association created Operation Purple summer camps in 2004 as a way to help children of military families struggling with the stresses of war. A new program helps military family members re-establish their roles through family retreats.

"The intent of it was to bring the family together so that they could tell their deployment story as a family and really build on the experience of bringing the family back together after the deployment," Michelle Joyner, NMFA's director of communications said.

"This was just helping families [with] the reintegration piece of re-establishing the family roles, [which] was done through writing this deployment story as a family unit," she added.

Based on a six-week program that the FOCUS Project at the University of California at Los Angeles has been using with the Marine Corps, the first two Operation Purple family retreats were held in Port Angeles, Wash., and Sausilito, Calif., in March. NMFA worked with the FOCUS Project to come up with a concept that would be beneficial for military families and could be accomplished in a long weekend, Joyner said.

With support from the Sierra Club, military families bonded and enjoyed a number of outdoor activities in the national parks where the retreats were held. Activities were guided by four master's-degree-level clinicians experienced in working with families, said Patricia M. Barron, NMFA's director of youth services.

"Our collaboration with the FOCUS curriculum saw that the activities used at the retreats were centered on skill building and resiliency training," she said. "Families were taught to use specific skills to identify feelings that could impede communication and also spent time creating a family collage that told the story of their unique experience as a military family."

The camp staff also was well trained, Barron said. As field-science educators, each held at least a bachelor's degree, and many had a master's degree.

Eligibility for March's pilot program was limited to those who had returned from deployment within the past year, and despite limited outreach, the response was huge, NMFA officials said. Applications came in from 400 families, and 43 were accepted for the program. The participants' response to the retreats was very positive, Joyner said.

"They appreciated having the dialogue and the activities that sparked the conversations," she said. "It was nice, because you're never sure how group activities are going to go over when you do them the first time."

NMFA officials are planning at least two more retreats for the fall, to be held on the East Coast, and hope for a third, possibly to be held on the West Coast, Joyner said.

Registration takes place through the Operation Purple Web site, which also features information and updates on the program.

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