Local youth learn leadership skills at annual camp

Photos by Staff Sgt. Killo K. Gibson, 3rd BCT, 1st AD Public Affairs: Lt. Col. Michael Loftus, assigned to 2nd Engineer Battalion, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, speaks with students about leadership and what it means to be a leader during the Youth Leadership Camp here June 23.

Photos by Staff Sgt. Killo K. Gibson, 3rd BCT, 1st AD Public Affairs: Lt. Col. Michael Loftus, assigned to 2nd Engineer Battalion, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, speaks with students about leadership and what it means to be a leader during the Youth Leadership Camp here June 23.

By Staff Sgt. Killo Gibson,  3rd BCT, 1st AD Public Affairs:

You don’t have to wait until you’re an adult to become a leader. Twenty-nine students from all around El Paso spent a week developing skills that would better prepare them to be leaders as an adult. The Milam Youth Center held its annual Leadership Camp June 19 through 23 here.

Camp members spent four nights living in barracks, eating in on-post dining facilities, conducting charity work, navigating an obstacle course, using virtual simulators and participating in a leadership reaction course, all without assistance from their parents.

“Many of these kids have never been away from home, other than spending the night at a friend’s house,” said Cecilia Talavera, a child youth program assistant. “These children are spending an entire week living in the barracks with three people whom they are meeting for the first time, almost like a college dorm.”

Living together gave the students the opportunity to make new friendships and work on their communication skills, which is vital in becoming an effective leader.

“This is my first time at the camp and I like that I made new friends,” said Lauren Rempel, a 12-year-old student from Harmony School of Innovation.

Parents had the opportunity to visit their child at the end of the day before the children went to sleep, but only a few parents visited, Talavera said.

“Most of the parents chose not to visit their child to allow them to get the full experience of being independent and doing things on their own,” Talavera said.

Campers began the week assisting the El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Food Bank. Campers helped prepare meals to be delivered throughout the city.

This gave the students the opportunity to give back to the community and practice selfless-service, Talavera said.

But that was just the beginning. Students had to put their mental and physical skills to the test in some team-building exercises. Students were divided into teams and told they would have to complete the nine-obstacle course as a team.

Teammates shouted encouraging words to one another throughout the course.

“It was great to see all the students working together, supporting each other and getting through the course as a team,” said Nicole Timlin, a child youth program assistant.

Students from the Milam Youth Leadership Camp navigate an obstacle at the Air Assault Obstacle Course here June 22.

At the end of the course, students had the opportunity to rappel off a 40-foot tower. Many students were afraid to rappel from the tower, and this wasn’t a requirement, but more of an opportunity to face their fear and lead by example.

An air assault instructor from the Iron Training Detachment instructed the students on the procedures they would follow and then performed a live demonstration.

A child youth program assistant was the first to rappel down the tower, followed by the students.

“I had so much fun using the simulators, but I was looking forward to the rappel tower,” said Donaven Williams, a 12-year-old student from Canyon Hills Middle School. “I was a little scared, but I knew I could do it.”

Although all the students didn’t rappel down the tower, they learned some valuable lessons during the week about themselves and things they can work on individually.

“The students made a lot of progress through the week. Some children were homesick the first night, but by the second night they had adjusted and made friends and were excited to get to the next day’s activities,” Timlin said.

At the end of the week Lt. Col. Michael Loftus, assigned to 2nd Engineer Battalion, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, spoke with students about leadership and what it means to be a leader. He left the students with these final words.

“Leaders must be willing to learn, follow and be willing to make sacrifices for others,” Loftus said.

For information about enrolling a child at the Milam Youth Center, contact Jennie Ortega at 744-2449.