Boot Camp, with Laughs; Camp Blanding Program Aims to Teach Teamwork and Leadership

Article excerpt

Byline: NIN-HAI TSENG, The Times-Union

CAMP BLANDING -- In most cases, summer camp means canoe races, softball games and plenty of time for arts and crafts.

But not at Camp PAL, a summer program hosted by the Clay County Police Athletic League. The weeklong program includes crawling under barbed wire, jumping over walls and logs and swinging on ropes.

Indeed these are many of the same rigorous obstacles found in boot camp -- only with a lot more help and way more laughs. The camp, divided into five separate sessions, started last week with youth from the Orange Park area. This week is for the Middleburg area.

"It's fun, but I don't like getting dirt on me," said Brittany Haselwood, 13, one of about 20 campers Wednesday.

In a T-shirt and shorts, Haselwood wiggled through dirt like a caterpillar trying to avoid a crisscross blanket of pointy barbed wires above. With the help of a few hands lifting the wires away and her teammates cheering her on, the J.L. Wilkinson Junior High School student made it through the obstacle without getting her clothes snagged.

But her golden blond hair, smudged with sweat and dirt, paid the price.

"Basically you're teaching them leadership skills and that people need to work together to be successful," said Staff Sgt. Gregory Johnson with the Florida National Guard.

The National Guard had been hosting the program at Camp Blanding year-round since October, Johnson said, but partnered with the Clay County Police Athletic League in June.

School resource officers from the Clay County Sheriff's Office chaperone participants of the program, designed for Clay County youth 12 to 17 years old. The weeklong camp is free with lunch and bus rides to Camp Blanding.

For some, the program is perhaps an opportunity to start military training early. …