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Operation Military Kids participate in the Great Utah Road Trip

MOAB, Utah -- Thanks to a partnership with Operation Military Kids, this year's Great Utah Road Trip was able to expand to include 70 youth from the Utah National Youth Council, the Moroccan Youth Exchange program and several 4-H youth leaders.

OMK is a national program designed to help military youth deal with the deployment of a parent or loved one.

"OMK decided to participate in this year's road trip to provide opportunities for more children to attend by giving out grant money," said Connie Packer, Operation Military Kids program coordinator. "OMK also decided to participate to get to know the youth better and to gain friendships with each one of the kids to show support."

Differences in language, location and labels faded into the background as the youth boarded the buses headed for the red rock canyons of Southern Utah. During the first day in Moab, the youth left modern conveniences behind to start a two-day rafting adventure on the rust-colored Colorado River.

"My favorite moment on the trip was when we were on the river," said 17-year-old military child Rachel Green. "We were all having water fights and trying to push everyone in."

The purpose of the trip was to let the military kids get to know each other and have some fun.

"They made new friendships," said Packer. "They worked together on the river learning how to be a team on their boats."

After stopping on a beach for the night, the youth used the time for games and talking.

"My friends and I definitely always talk about deployment," said Green. "It's a big part of our lives and no one really understands what we go through but other military kids."

The rest of the trip gave the youth new experiences and greater understanding of the Utah landscape, history and each other. After five days, the youth had enjoyed and endured many miles and smiles, but they were ready for their own beds and the familiar faces of home.

Sixteen-year-old Jessica Bills shared her mixed feelings on the last day of GURT.

"I was glad to go home because I was worn out and tired," said Bills. "But I didn't want to go home because of the atmosphere. Everyone is accepted. My friends at home don't know how it really is because they haven't gone through it, but GURT is another opportunity to connect with other people on a daily basis who are going through the same thing you are."

Kelly Barnes, the UTNG State Youth Coordinator and trip organizer, was glad to return all the youth safe and sound to their parents.

"This was our biggest trip ever," said Barnes. "Safety was my top concern, but fun came in a close second."

"I know that the teens that participated in the GURT benefited greatly from this road trip," said Packer. "They got a break from the stresses of their situations at home, and they got to see parts of our state that they had never seen before. I am very happy that I represent OMK and I am very glad to have been of service to America's finest kids."