Along the Trail

Today at Aviation Challenge we graduated our Mach 3 – Twelve Day trainees, campers that are so die hard they come back year after year. They survived our watered down version of SERE, flying F-15s into simulated combat, several bumps and bruises, and a few trips to the hospital. Years from now they will remember their two weeks spent around “the lake.”

We also had the privilege of watching a hero of Vietnam pin a medal on a hero of our current wars. SGM Jerry Gleason is Aviation Challenge; he wrote the survival curriculum and lived what he taught. He has inspired many campers to pursue their dream. SGT Whitfield or Safety is one of those campers. Safety served his country diligently for five years and now he is working at Aviation Challenge.

I am so lucky to work where I work and have the chance to do the things that I do. I work with a tremendous group of people. I am blessed to see the campers grow up in the Space Camp family of programs. Recently, I have had the chance to ponder on my time around the lake, my career in camping, and what the future may hold for me. Where would I be and what would I be doing if I had not been exiled to the lake?

First, I guess you need to know a little bit about my career path and possible goal. Growing up all I dreamed of was one day living on a paved road. I didn’t plan to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer because I wasn’t that smart. At the age of fifteen I volunteered as a CIT at Camp Garaywa in Clinton, Mississippi for a few weeks. I didn’t realize how hooked I was at the time, but I was addicted to camp and working with kids. The next summer I had secured of job at Camp of the Rising Son as an Assistant Counselor or AC for short. I spent four wonderful summers working along the shores of Lake Anne. That led me to Delta State University pursing an Elementary Education degree.

Choosing a college will impact your life and career! I worked at various camps throughout college. All of this in hopes of one day landing a full time job in summer camping. During my student teaching I was lucky enough to travel back to Space Camp as a chaperone. I fell back in love with the space program and with Huntsville, AL. Life and love led me back to work at Space Camp even when I was working year round at Twin Lakes in Mississippi. Eventually and unknowingly planned, I moved to Alabama to work full time at Space Camp. But I would not work in the full time camp operations.

My first job was in education, work with teacher camp. I loved it. Honestly, I dream of the day I would return to work with the teachers. Full time called me to the service of NASA Stars a program that would allow me to work along side camp operations preparing teachers and kids for an out of this world experience to Space Camp. Kids from low income areas of Alabama would travel to Huntsville for a three day camp experience. I had no clue about the kid’s portion of Space Camp. The fall flew by, I was engaged, and working in education. Along the same time came a decree from above that I would spend my summer at Aviation Challenge in the operations side of the house.

I didn’t enjoy the thought of being exiled where old aircraft sit and rust or cranky old men yell at you for running on the grass. I wanted to work with my friends in education. I felt that the Space Camp gods were punishing me for being a bad alumnus of the programs. That summer turned out to be great. I worked with Lurch as a supervisor, met Safety as a camper, and heard of the glory days where Gordo, Spanky, Sandrat, and Joker ran wild on AC with the 77th Black Knights. I remember reporting at the assigned time of nine o’clock in the morning. My boss, well renown fighter pilot in the F-4 community, didn’t show up until some point after me. I learned quickly that wake-up is at seven o’clock and good Assistant Managers should report before that time.

I learned a lot more that summer, lifeguards are hard to manage especially when she resembles a bearded goat, graduation days need to be well organized, there is no need to drive from the office to Gate 5 if there is a staff member having a seizure near the F-14, or never leave an Asperger’s Syndrome kid alone under the bubble with a bully. Learning a lot didn’t make up for me feeling like I had gotten off the trail somehow. Had I looked away from my dream and found myself at AC?

I think I have felt that way for five years. “I’m in the wrong place, I want to do more, I need more of a challenge!” were the lies I filled my head with because I wasn’t where “I thought” I should be. Life mellowed me out, calmed me down, and Marcia Lindstrom took over as Director of Ops. Things changed and I learned a more few things.

I left Camp of the Rising Son because I thought I had something to prove. I have always regretted that decision. And that may be the first time I have admitted that to myself, much less the world. This week I looked back on my career, where I want to go and where I have been. I considered having been exiled to the lake, and now going back to education, this time as the director, and returning to CRS for their Mega Reunion. Looking at all of these things were more like a crossroad not a straight path, but a scary dragon showed me the correct path. I realized how much I love the kids, how much I love my job, and how much I love the people I work with. But most of all I realized how much I loved working with the kids. I am in the right spot. I don’t have to do anything different to prove a point.

Chief Margie taught me a great truth long ago and that is “Camp is for the Camper.” If you aren’t in the game for that end you shouldn’t be in the game. Life is sweeter when you put others first! I am very thankful my path is along side campers, counselors, and other staff! Graduation today was a wonderful testament to the old and new guard and you can’t get away from Chief Margie’s teaching even in Huntsville, Alabama.

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