Published: August 2, 2013
DECKERS - A cool, shallow creek lazily meanders through YMCA Camp Shady Brook.
It's speckled with rainbow-colored rocks, placed there by campers who painted and placed them there during a leisurely nature walk.
Nearby, a pile of newly tie-dyed T-shirts dries in the sun.
Faint scents of vanilla and butterscotch waft though the warm mid-morning air courtesy of pine trees that - for a reason unknown to scientists or campers - release them when baked by the sun.
The camp is a paradise for the hundreds of kids who spend part of their summer here each year.
This week, it was an special treat for 190 military children, many of whom lead lives complicated by frequent moves, deployments and the aftermath of war.
Each year Camp Corral, run by buffet chain Golden Corral, picks up the tab for 2,000 campers - the children of active-duty, wounded and fallen troops - to attend one of 18 4-H and YMCA summer camps in 14 states.
Camp staff are trained in working with military kids and asked to organize a military appreciation day, said Garrett Johnson, summer camp coordinator for Shady Brook.
Otherwise, Camp Corral gives the YMCA and 4-H latitude to offer their traditional summer programs.
At Shady Brook, that means kayaking, zip-lining, rock climbing, building camp fires and sleeping under the stars, Johnson said.
"They really let us give these kids camp," Johnson said. "These kids can come here, feel camp love and experience what it is to be a kid."
Blue dragonflies and bubbles floated through the air Friday morning as campers gathered on the ball field for the morning's first activity.
"Gentleman, are you ready for this?" a counselor asked a group of dog tag-clad boys who were singing songs about camels and monkeys.
"What are we playing?" one asked.
"Smugglers and Spies, and it's wicked awesome," the counselor replied, referring to a camp game in which kids attempt to sneak pieces of paper across a field without being discovered.
As campers rushed the field, Brandon Williams sat on a wooden bench and watched.
The 13-year-old's dad, a Fort Carson soldier, will soon leave for a yearlong deployment to Korea.
This week's camp was a welcome break from the proverbial grey cloud that's been hovering over his home as the deployment nears, he said.
"I've been kind of sad," Brandon said. "I barely get to see him. He deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan three times, and he'd only get to call about once a week.
"But camp this week has been a great time."
Some of his favorite things about camp: swimming in a lake and campfire discussions about parents, the military and the future.
"We talked about what we'd like to do 10 years from now," he said. "I would love to be a counselor here, to work with military kids."
His very favorite thing: the friends he's made among campers and counselors.
"They're all good people who've given me lots of good advice," he said. "They gave me the strength to jump in the lake early in the morning. It was cold."
Nearby, camper Kavin Humble, 14, kept a watchful eye on his younger sister.
Kavin's dad is a disabled veteran who lives with traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and a back injury.
"Sometimes the VA won't give him the right amount of medicines or they're constantly changing them," he said. "It's like, maybe he'll be in a good mood or maybe he'll be in a bad mood. It varies."
Because his step-mom works and his dad is often at doctor appointments, he looks out for his two younger siblings.
For Kavin, this week's camp provided a much-needed break from the extra duties he shoulders.
Because his sister was being looked after by camp counselors, he found himself with free time on his hands.
He used it to think about his future.
"I liked being a kid, but I think it's time for me to grow up and take my responsibilities more seriously," said Kavin, who plans to join the Army Corps of Engineers out of college.
"But this was a really good break. It's nice to not always have to worry."