Making the most of the Kentucky National Guard Youth Camp

 By Stacy Floden, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

Josie Pruitt’s first year of Kentucky National Guard youth camp in 2012.  Back then, she spent part of her day as a camper working on arts and crafts, this year she will work as a staff members creating lasting memories for new campers. (Courtesy photo)

FRANKFORT, Ky. – At ten years old, she said she was very different from everyone she knew. She was very conscious of her looks and was afraid to move five feet from her Mother. But, In the Summer of 2012, Josie Pruitt, made a decision that would forever change her life. She decided to attend the Kentucky National Guard Youth Camp.

“I remember thinking how amazing the camp sounded. The swimming, rock climbing, even shooting at the gun ranges,” she said. “Now don’t get me wrong, I was still terrified. But we sent in the application, and low and behold, I got accepted.”

This years’ youth camp is this week at the Lake Cumberland 4-H Education Center. The camp is for children ages 9-14. The camp is designed to enhance resiliency in military kids through fun and challenging activities. The goal is to engage geographically dispersed military kids with other military kids to build camaraderie, friendships and bonds that will last a lifetime.

“I remember seeing the sign welcoming us to the camp. The tie-dye, the bright colors and the many pictures that were taken at that camp laid out on a poster,” said Pruitt. “I will admit, I got really excited really fast. But, whenever we walked into the camp, I immediately got very nervous and scared. I was holding onto my mother.”

During the first few days of camp, Pruitt had to learn the cadences and the formations, but after many practices she understood what to do and when. She enjoyed the swimming, and the shooting range. At the end of the week, there was an awards ceremony and a dance. Pruitt received an award. “My first time at the Kentucky National Guard Youth Camp went as fast as could be. I had so much fun and before I knew it, it was time to leave.”

This was the start of something Pruitt would continue to do every summer, at least for the next four years, until she aged out. “I have grown to love this camp. This camp has been a second home to me. It made me feel normal. Like I was part of a military family.”

Pruitt says the youth camp has made her an entirely different person. She has made friends at the camp that she still keeps in contact with and talks to everyday. Her confidence level has risen and her shyness has slowly gone away.

“This camp means everything to me. It is my ‘home away from home,’” said Pruitt. “It helped me find who I really was and gave me more leadership abilities than any other leadership team or club I have been in, which I’ve been in plenty.”

Josie Pruitt receiving the Minuteman Award for her leadership abilities during her last year as a camper.

In 2016, Pruitt was going for the last time as a camper. She again remembered how excited she was that first day. The camp had the same activities, but different jokes. The same friends, but different memories. The same bunks, but flashbacks of the people who used to sleep in them. And for the last time, she would participate in the awards ceremony and the dance.

“My friends and I walked up, sat down and waited to see who received awards. Two of my closest friends who walked up to the pavilion with me, had received the honor camper and platoon Sergeant award. I was sad, thinking ‘Awe man, I didn’t get an award.’ Oh well, I still had a great time at the camp,” she said. “Then I noticed my Platoon Sergeant and assistant platoon Sergeant stayed up towards the front of the building. ‘What on earth is going on? There isn’t any more awards to hand out.’ I thought to myself. Then it hit me. The Minuteman Award. The award handed to one person across the whole camp for their leadership abilities. My mouth dropped. ‘The 2016 Minuteman Award goes to Platoon 9’s Josie Pruitt.’ I smiled real brightly and couldn’t believe what I was hearing. All of my hard work paid off. Every single thing I did with the camp, led to this moment.”

This year she will be back at camp, but as a staff member. “I hope the campers understand this isn’t a place where you need to be scared. This isn’t a place you need to pretend to be someone else. This is a place where regardless of who you are, you are loved and you do matter. This camp changed my life. Who says it couldn’t change a new camper’s life?”