Local A/TA chapter volunteers at Special Olympics Day

  • Published
  • By Shari Sims
  • 726th Air Mobility Squadron
Since its inception in 2006, the local Halvorsen Chapter of the nationally recognized Airlift Tanker Association has focused not only on professional development, but also community involvement. This year we were fortunate enough to be invited to assist 800 athletes who took part in the Special Olympics Day in Kaiserslautern, Germany. With more than 1,500 volunteers, we were a mere fraction of the overall effort, but the positive impact on each athlete's experience was immediately apparent.

The inspiration we derived to join in community events such as Special Olympics Day comes from our chapter's namesake, Col. Gail Halvorsen. Not only is he well-known for his efforts during the Berlin Airlift as the original "Candy Bomber," but he also set a benchmark for the importance of building community relations. His efforts began the lesser-known "Operation Little Vittles." By the end of the Berlin Airlift, 25 crews had dropped 23 tons of chocolate and candy to the children of post- World War II Berlin. His selfless actions are a constant reminder that every person can make a difference on a much larger scale, and the effects can be felt long after.

On the morning of the Special Olympics, the energy of the crowd was undeniable as athletes lined up for the opening ceremonies and parade. For most of us from the Halvorsen Chapter, this was the first time we volunteered for this event. We were not quite sure what to expect. Once the athletes started around the track, you could not help but get caught up in their enthusiasm. The pride of just being there to take part in the event and share their talents was something to be admired.

The day consisted of a variety of track and field events, along with non-competitive. During softball, it was extremely rewarding to see the athletes field the ball with such determination or throw the ball as if they were closing out the game with the final out. The exceptional joy on their faces from just putting on the glove to be a part of it all reminded us of the simple pleasures of the sport. The raw emotion of the athletes with high-fives, smiles and hugs let every volunteer know they were grateful for each and every one of us being there to share in their achievements. There was a clear sense of community as everyone circled around the field to watch the soccer match between the U.S and German teams. The awards ceremony brought everyone together one final time to cheer on athletes as they were recognized for their superior efforts throughout the day.

Following the lead of our treasurer, Staff Sgt. Brandi Washington of the 726th Air Mobility Squadron, the Halvorsen Chapter will continue our involvement with this annual event.

"I love seeing the smiles and the excitement each child and adult show. The Special Olympics is more than a volunteer opportunity - it's a chance to bring joy to someone's life by playing, teaching or helping them in activities they do not experience every day," said Sergeant Washington. "I've been volunteering for the Special Olympics since 2003 and to be greeted with big, bright smiles at the end of the day completes me."

Our chapter strives to follow in the steps of Colonel Halvorsen by building community relations and we are continually looking for those who would like to share their suggestions, along with their time as members of our professional organization. In the past, we have taken professional development trips to the Sinsheim Auto and Technik Museum, the 385th Bomb Group Museum and the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial.

For further information on membership and future professional development trips, contact Master Sgt. Anthony Bickerton, the chapter president, at Anthony.bickerton@spangdahlem.af.mil.