Camp for Kids Coping With Parents at War

On Saturday, 6-year-old Hunter Morgan went to camp for the very first time.

But this was no typical summer camp. Hunter spent the day at Camp Cope in San Antonio, a day camp specifically designed for children of deployed, injured and fallen service members.

More than 1.5 million troops have deployed in the last five years, meaning that as many as 700,000 children in this country have at least one parent deployed. And, according to the Department of Defense, there are at least 12,000 children with an injured parent. While their parents have been recognized for their service, these children are also veterans -- they each bear the wounds of war.


Hunter's father, Scott, was wounded in Taji, Iraq, in 2004, just two days before he was scheduled to return home. A mortar landed five feet in front of him, throwing him against a wall and shattering the femur bones in his legs.

"One minute I was standing there and I blinked my eyes and -- boom, bam -- I woke up and I was on the ground," Scott said.

Scott now has a titanium rod and plate in his legs, and difficulty walking. In addition to the damage to his legs, the explosion rattled his brain, leaving him with traumatic brain injury and memory loss. He also suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, and says he has even contemplated suicide.

"I feel like I left a part of me over there that can't be replaced," he said. "Now I get angry a lot, a lot more than normal."

Scott's wife, Melanie, can see the change in her husband's eyes. "He's not what he used to be," she said tearfully. "He's been hurt for four years, we've been together 10, and he's completely different. The anger is extreme and I've never had to deal with that."

Scott's injuries have left him with day-to-day physical difficulties that cause Hunter extreme anxiety. One day, when Melanie was out of the house, Scott fell down in the backyard and could not get up because he has very limited movement in his legs. This was traumatic for Hunter, who is so fearful that he is afraid to leave his father's side because he believes that something will happen to his dad.

"I want him to able to leave the house and not be scared that something is going to happen to me," Scott said.

Scott also worries that his anger is hurting his son. Melanie tries to explain to Hunter that Scott's depression and rage are a result of his injuries, but she knows that Hunter doesn't understand and blames himself for his father's outbursts. To help him cope, she gave him a journal where he could write down his feelings.

What he wrote brought his father to tears. "Dear Journal," wrote Hunter. "My bad days are with Daddy."

"It just breaks my heart," said Scott. "I read it and I just sat there and cried."

Though Scott is getting treatment for his PTSD and depression, he and Melanie knew that Hunter needed help coping with his issues as well. That's why they sent him to Camp Cope.

The counselors at Camp Cope are experienced with the pain that children like Hunter go through as a result of their parents' injuries.

Co-founders Sarah Balint-Bravo and Elizabeth Reep designed the camp, which is in its third year, as a way to offer these children a variety of therapeutic activities to help them deal with the stress of having their parents deployed or wounded.

"They think that they're just there having a good time," explained Reep. "But the activities are indirect, and they help them to talk about what they've experienced, and to learn new ways to cope with that in a group setting where they're able to do that with other children of service members that have been injured or deployed."

"I learned about worry dolls. … I can place my fear there," said one child who attended the camp.

For Hunter, who is the only child at his school with a wounded parent, Camp Cope was an opportunity to meet others in the same situation and a first step toward opening up about his feelings.

"I can talk about my dad," he said Saturday after spending some time at the camp. "I know what to do if I get upset."

Balint-Bravo and Reep want to make sure this opportunity is available for other children in Hunter's situation and hope to expand Camp Cope as much as possible in the future.

"We plan to take this across the nation," Reep said. "We're not stopping until we see every child!"