Kids go to ‘boot camp’ Operation Hele On

Operation Hele On Cadets complete an obstacle course.

Story and photos by MC3 Justin Pacheco

Navy Public Affairs Support Element Detachment Hawaii

Growing up with military parents can be anything but easy, and having those parents deploy is one of the more challenging aspects of that situation. That’s why Operation Hele On was designed, and on Aug. 18, roughly 100 service members’ children got a first-hand look at what it’s like to lace up their combat boots and “deploy.”

Military & Family Support Center’s (MFSC) 14th Annual Operation Hele On, Hawaiian for “ready go,” is a day-long exercise developed to help alleviate many of the stresses commonly experienced by the children of service members, when one or both active-duty parents are called away from home to serve their country.

Operation Hele On Cadets complete an obstacle course.

Georgia Thompson, MFSC’s Deployment Readiness Program coordinator, along with fellow coordinators Alli Barber and David Alvarado, spent more than six months organizing a fun, interactive event for the families.

“This event is very near and dear to my heart because I have three children who’ve grown up in the military,” Thompson said. “They’ve experienced their father going on eight deployments and two remote tours, and they’ve done mock deployments before, as well. It helped them understand more about what their dad does for us when he’s away, how important it is, and how much more coming home means to us as a family.”

Hele On begins like any normal, if slightly easier, first day at boot camp. First, the young Cadets are checked-in, given personalized dog tags and “gear” donated by Operation Homefront and the USO, and are divided into six teams: the Seals, Wildcats, Sea Hawks, Mustangs, Sky Warriors and the Falcons. Volunteer active-duty service members acting as recruit division commanders and military training instructors then lead them through basic training by teaching them military drills, marching techniques, and customs and courtesies.

Chief Machinist’s Mate (Auxiliary) Luis Navarrodiaz, center, leads Sea Hawk Cadets in formation during the introduction phase.

Navy Counselor 1st Class Iris Vales Mendez, one of the Sea Hawks team leads, said she found the exercise to be incredibly rewarding and beneficial to the Cadets as well as herself.

“I think I enjoyed the displays and the tours as much as the children did!” Vales Mendez said. “It’s great to see how engaged and how motivated they all are. It’s also a real eye-opener and a great learning experience for them. They get a small taste of what their parents go through, and I think that can really help them deal with the reality of what happens when a parent has to deploy.”

Events included combat arms and explosive ordnance disposal displays, as well as a timed obstacle course and a tour of Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Hopper (DDG 70).

Bailey Conant, a 13-year-old team Mus-tang Cadet whose father is in the U.S. Air Force, said her favorite part of the day was being chosen to call cadences during her team’s marching exercises. Her twin sister Riley enthusiastically added her favorite part of the day was marching in step to her sister’s cadence.

“We know it’s just as hard for him to be gone as it is for us,” Bailey said.

“But seeing everyone out here working together and having fun makes it easier. We know he’s getting taken care of when he has to go,” Riley said.

At the conclusion of the day’s events, the six well-trained teams had a “homecoming” ceremony, complete with personalized welcome home signs for every Cadet made by MFSC volunteers, as well as signs waved enthusiastically by their parents. A recognition ceremony was then held for all of the teams’ participation, and awards were given for team’s individual performances on the obstacle course, as well as team spirit and drill presentation.

For more information on future MFSC events, please visit

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Category: Life & Leisure