CINCINNATI — It’s summertime, and that means it is time to pack up those sleeping bags and backpacks for Veteran Camp. At least that’s the goal for Crossroads Church as they focus on bringing area veterans together for fellowship.
“No expectations other than to being community, recharge yourself, you know, forget about the things that you left outside our camp walls, and just focus on yourself, and be remembered that you have a community to help you moving forward,” said Mike Crossley, Base Camp director.
Crossley is a Marine Corps veteran, having served from 1986 to 1994 working in the field of reconnaissance. He is also a longtime member of Crossroads Church, which already had what they call "Man Camp."
“We recognized right away, the organic experience that Man Camp was, you know, totally transferable to the veteran community,” Crossley said.
It wasn't long before Air Force veteran Chris Yeazel joined discussions about launching Veteran Camp.
“We just keep pressing each other saying that, you know, we need to do this for vets, because it just made sense with the camaraderie and working together, building relationships,” Yeazel said.
When asked about veterans who aren’t regular attendees of the church or who practice another faith, Crossley said he understands why there could be some reluctance to attend.
“One thing, if anything, Crossroads does, we don't care where you are; we don't care what you look like; we don't care what your religious beliefs," Crossley said. "We just want you to here. We just want to show you what love is. Our number one priority is just being in community.”
That said, faith is at the heart of the camp, and Crossley pointed out that veterans can make a very familiar connection to what’s written in the Bible.
“There is one of the things that a veteran understands, is in the book of John, this is there's a verse that talks about, there's just no greater love than to lay down one's life for a friend," he said. "A veteran understands that. A veteran understands sacrifice.”
The 24-hour camp experience was created three years ago. The pandemic forced them to cancel the camp in 2020, so this upcoming camp will be its second.
Army veteran Chris Macklin works for Easterseals of Greater Cincinnati within the military and veteran services section.
“I signed up as soon as I saw the email,” he said.
Macklin spends his days helping veterans with everything from housing and automotive issues to employment opportunities, often working outside any type of normal hours to get the mission done.
“My tank was empty,” he said. “I needed somebody to pour some back into me because I was just feeling drained and didn't really know it.”
Macklin said he went to the first Veteran Camp held by Crossroads, and it led to great personal discoveries and a new network of support.
“To my amazement, it wasn't about church," he said. "It's really about building fellowship, creating a network, meeting other veterans that were struggling just like me, if not worse, and everybody just trying to find their own path to get out of what the bears they were facing."
Macklin is now planning to attend the second camp at the end of July.
“I got a championship — I got the arm-wrestling championship,” he said. “So, you guys out there that think you can handle, let’s go. Start to work out right now.”
As of now, the camp is only for male veterans. There is a registration fee to sign up for the overnight camp, but Crossley said veterans should not let the fee stop them from signing up.