Girl Scout boot camp gives Fort Belvoir fathers, daughters time to bond

May 1, 2013

Carlos Plata was struggling to dress a Barbie doll. The cyberspace operations planner couldn’t get the doll’s clothes on correctly.

“Hurry up, Dad,” his daughter Jacqueline urged.

Jacqueline was having wardrobe issues of her own. The 8-year-old looked as though she was being swallowed by the adult-size Army fatigue pants she’d been given to wear for their bizarre race. “That was cool,” Jacqueline said as they finished the father-daughter take on a rucksack race.

It was a special day for her, celebrating her birthday at the sixth annual Fort Belvoir Girl Scouts’ father-daughter boot camp last month. The event is a special one for Scouts whose parents are in high-stress jobs that require lots of time away — and a departure from the traditional father-daughter dances.

The boot camp is hosted by Fort Belvoir Girl Scout Troop C-1679 and lets enlisted officers engage with their daughters in events they are familiar with, such as the low crawl and tug-of-war.

“This event got such a positive response from our families that we made it an annual event, and it is now one of the most anticipated activities we do every year,” said Jill Shannon, who supervises Girl Scout Service Unit 53-5, the regional group Troop C-1679 is a member of.

Army Lt. Col. Joe Funderburke, 42, has participated in consecutive boot camps with his 9-year-old twin daughters, Emma and Jenna.

“I like these activities because it keeps us active, it’s interactive and it gives them more opportunities to bond with their friends and for me to meet other parents,” Funderburke said.

The event promotes the kind of well-rounded lifestyle Funderburke is trying to teach his daughters.

“I don’t stress fitness; I just expose them to healthy lifestyles,” he said. That includes a balanced diet and running regularly.

“My girls are also a part of Girls on the Run,” a health and running program for girls, he said. “They ran their first 5K when they were 7, and they’ve run 5Ks with me since.”

It was the first time Plata, 38, had attended the boot camp. Plata flew into town from Tampa on Thursday night and had to fly out Sunday night, but he wanted to “spend time with my daughter.”

The birthday girl felt the same. “I want to spend time with you and have fun,” she told her father.

The boot camp began in 2008 to shake up the usual father-daughter interaction. Fort Belvoir has 20 Girl Scout troops at all age levels, and each troop hosts an event.

Shannon and the adults let the girls of Troop C-1679 plan and coordinate the boot camp. “The troop has planning meetings, they purchased the products and picked the events,” Shannon said.

“Costco was our savior,” Haleigh Altersitz, 13, of Troop C-1679 said about organizing and getting enough food for the event.

Haleigh competes in archery on a national level, and her father, Tom, a staff sergeant at Fort Belvoir, assists in coaching her. They will do a permanent change of station to Alaska next month.

Plata has been working in Tampa since December and tries to come back to Fort Belvoir once a month. The birthday party was already planned, but the boot camp was an added bonus. “She wanted me to do it with her,” Plata said.

Some girls stood underneath trees with their legs crossed, looking at the ground. They waited until they were assigned a partner. Because of the travel and relocations that service members’ jobs entail, additional men are needed to step in if a Girl Scout’s father is not there.

“We provide extra [cadets or officers] or an extra dad who takes on a second girl,” Shannon said. “We find fathers or special adult males for girls who don’t have their fathers present. We make sure there is no Girl Scout left behind. ”

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