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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Children and mentors swim at the Crater at the Homestead, Monday, Aug. 4, 2014, in Midway, during a special camp for teen children of special operations forces members who have died in combat.
It’s nice to meet people who are in the same situation. ;I can talk about my dad with my friends, but I can’t talk about it the way I talk about with them because they know what I’m going through —Kyla Cunningham

MIDWAY, Wasatch County — Approximately 15 sons and daughters of special operations forces soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who died in the line of duty are taking part in Warrior Outdoor Leadership for the Future.

“You never leave anyone behind, and you take care of your own,” said Mike Vaughn, former Air Force commando and co-founder of WOLF. “That’s what this program’s really all about.”

Vaughn's wife, Sara Moola, came up with the fairly simple idea to give these teens a chance to meet each other. The weeklong camp helps teens make a connection and find understanding they can’t find with friends back home.

“Every year we’re amazed at how quickly they come together and bond, and how much leadership they already have,” Vaughn said. “It seems ingrained in them.”

Kyla Cunningham lost her father, who was in the Air Force Special Operations Forces.

“It’s nice to meet people who are in the same situation,” said Cunningham, of Camarillo, California. “I can talk about my dad with my friends, but I can’t talk about it the way I talk about with them because they know what I’m going through.”

She said the camp not only connects her to other kids in the same situation, but also connects her to her dad.

“I’ve met people who have known my dad, and it’s nice to talk to them, and they tell me what he was like,” Cunningham said. “It’s nice to hear things about him that I wouldn’t have known.”

During the camp, kids hike and geocache, and participate in a biathlon challenge and activities such as resume writing and LinkedIn workshops.

“I think there’s a lot to learn from what we did today, like paying attention, pacing yourself and being a little aggressive when it comes to competition,” said Tristen Harper, of Michigan.

Harper lost his father, who was in the Army Special Operations Forces.

Now in its third year, the camp was moved from Weber County to the Park City area so athletes such as three-time Olympian Jeremy Teela could help mentor. Teela ran the biathlon course, where the kids learned to control their stress and to focus.

“They’re cut from the same cloth,” he said. “A lot of these kids have the mindset you’d probably see in their parents.”

Teela is a staff sergeant in the Vermont National Guard and is in the process of transferring to the Utah National Guard. He said he understands what military life can be like and wants to help these kids.

“I’m more than happy to give my time to this group of kids,” Teela said. “A lot of these kids look like they have the skill. They could go the distance with shooting for sure.”

The camp runs through Thursday.

The children also receive a scholarship to any university they are accepted.

“I’m always in awe of what we have the opportunity to do,” Vaughn said. “It’s not anything to do with us. It’s so much bigger than us.”

Email: manderson@deseretnews.com