WESTMINSTER -- At a Vermont National Guard armory just off Interstate 91 this week, Windham County sheriff's deputies have been working to instill teamwork and discipline in 28 young campers.
They also took time out to post this on Facebook: "Tacos tacos tacos!"
Organizers of the annual, week-long Camp Leadership Challenge have decided to incorporate social media into the military-style gathering, using Facebook as a way to promote the program and keep campers' parents informed.
"We post pictures and activities. We actually have parents messaging us," sheriff's department Cpl. Mark Anderson said. "The social media is becoming a big part of it."
Camp Leadership Challenge has been going strong for more than a decade. The Facebook posts are a way for organizers to keep the camp vital.
"We always ask, how can we evolve and stay current?" Anderson said.
The tacos post at the Camp Leadership Challenge Facebook page was a reference to campers' dinner Monday evening. And there are many photos posted there, including a picture of a camper in an uncomfortable-looking pose Tuesday on the armory's floor.
Accompanying the photo was this note: "A camper learns the lesson of not using his chain of command."
Which illustrates that, social media or not, the camp remains focused on giving boys and girls ages 12 to 17 an introduction to military life and law-enforcement experiences.
Windham sheriff's deputies
For instance, the youths meet at the beginning of the camp and establish standards for the week.
"They set up their own rules and their own punishments," said sheriff's Deputy Tyler Cooke. "We're giving them the responsibilities of leading their own camp."
Physical challenges are developed with the idea that campers "have to come up with the solutions to them as a team," Cooke said, noting that attendees are separated into two "platoons" that each have their own chain of command.
Camp Leadership has a military feel, with campers sleeping on cots at the armory. Cooke said the National Guard donates the space, cots, some clothing and additional manpower.
Attendees get a first-hand look at military and police equipment including a tank, a helicopter and sheriff's deputies' new Humvee obtained in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene's flooding last summer.
Speakers at the camp include representatives from the state police, the state Department of Liquor Control and Brattleboro Area Prevention Coalition. Tuesday's presentation included discussion of Vermont's ban on texting while driving.
There also are field trips: Campers on Tuesday visited Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield, and they'll travel to the Vermont Police Academy in Pittsford on Thursday.
All of those activities, along with sleeping arrangements and meals, cost campers $50 for the week. Financial assistance is available to families who cannot afford that.
The price is kept low, deputies say, only through the generosity of sponsors.
"They're the ones who keep this camp going," Anderson said.
Cooke added that camp leaders are searching for additional sponsors. Anyone interested can call the sheriff's department at 802-365-4942.
Organizers say such donations will sustain a camp that lures some teens back for multiple visits. Twelve of this year's campers participated last year.
And while all receive exposure to military and law-enforcement culture, a career interest in those fields is not required.
"Some come because they can hang out with their friends and play some games and spend a few nights away from home," Cooke said.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.