JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
Airmen from the 437th Airlift Wing recently sacrificed their free time by volunteering at a Columbian orphanage during a recent mission.
The aircrew, comprised of Airmen from several different Joint Base Charleston squadrons, was flying a U.S. Southern Command mission in support of a Capstone Military Leadership Program mission.
"Capstone missions support flag officers as they go through the National Defense University," said Maj. Adam Dalson, 17th Airlift Squadron director of staff and mission commander. "During these trips, they travel around the world visiting different countries and meet with heads of state, ambassadors and dignitaries and get first-hand experience with the missions and problems these countries are experiencing."
One of the benefits of a Capstone mission though, is the aircrew may actually get a few days off from flying. To fill this extra time, Dalson's team decided to do something positive with their time on the ground.
The Capstone mission was taking the crew to Mexico, Colombia, Honduras and Panama, but it was while they were on the ground in Colombia that the crew was able to volunteer at a local orphanage.
"We talked with the hotel concierge to see if there was a place we could volunteer our time," said Dalson. "Bogota (Colombia) isn't the safest city to hang around in. With the high local force protection levels, there were a lot of neighborhoods we couldn't visit. Luckily, the next day, the concierge told me of an orphanage called La Casa de la Madre El Nino, and how we might be able to visit the kids there."
"The mission commander set (the volunteer opportunity) up for us and our aircraft commander introduced it to the group," said Senior Airman Laura Reed, 14th Airlift Squadron loadmaster. "We were all extremely excited and ready to help."
"The crew jumped at the opportunity," said Dalson. "The orphanage was originally described as worse than it actually was, but the crew was surprised by how beautiful it really was."
"It was set up nicely; they took wonderful care of the kids and there was a ton of staff," said Dalson. "They've been operating successfully for more than 70 years as a family business. The lady who met us there was actually the great granddaughter of the lady who started the orphanage."
The aircrew teamed up and collected $800 out of their own pockets and purchased toys and toiletries for the children. When they got to the orphanage, they split into two groups; one for the older kids, and one for the younger children.
"I'm a dad myself, so I know that babies are easier," joked Dalson. "We were indoors taking care of the children, feeding and playing with them."
The other group of Airmen were out in the open backyard area playing with the older kids, said Dalson.
"It was great watching the other group play outside with the kids," said Reed. "The kids didn't speak English so they used hand motions to communicate with us."
The orphanage is home to more than 100 children age 14 and under.
"Most of these kids come from a pretty rough background," said Dalson. "It's humbling to help these kids and show them they have opportunities for a positive future and that there are people out there who really do care about them."
Lt. Col. Paul Theriot, 17th AS commander, was proud that these Airmen chose to spend their time doing such a good service for others.
"There is no expectation that crews need to do this kind of thing; but if you make the decision on leg one of the mission to have a positive, safe journey, it will happen," said Theriot.
More than just helping the children in need, Dalson said he and his team had such a good time they look forward to being able to do things like this on future missions.
"I would go back there in a heartbeat," said Dalson. "Nothing but big eyes and huge smiles; it was by far the best part of our trip."