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Leave behind all that you can

  • Published
  • By Col. Dave MacMillan
  • 171st Air Refueling Wing
Leaving places better than we found them - this is the calling card of the 171st Air Refueling Wing from Pittsburgh. As Airmen, wing members recognize their "high calling" and try to connect with people in everyday walks of life as they travel the globe. Some of these connections are on a personal level and some are in the form of giving donated items.

The KC-135s from Pittsburgh arrived on Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in late June
to execute the mission of the 506th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron (EARS), which is to support the Theater Security Package (TSP) and the Continuing Bomber Presence (CBP) missions - both important to ensuring regional security in the Pacific.

Lt. Col. Sean Boyle was the detachment commander for July, and he coordinated the 506th EARS Apaca Point clean up with the Guam Park Service and paved the way for "Operation Backpack." The project was planned by Master Sgt. John Buckwalter, a 171st Boom Operator, "Operation Backpack" was a wing-wide effort to reach out to kids and families within the local Andersen AFB community. Airmen of the 171 ARW collected a large supply of children's backpacks full of school supplies, clothing, and toys and hand-carried them on the long flight from Pittsburgh - destination Guam.

Buckwalter contacted the 36th Wing's community relations chief and the base chaplain's
office to get ideas to help the local community--the Machananao Elementary School was offered as a place to support. The word spread throughout the wing, and many backpacks came forward and were carried on the jets by deploying Airmen. Squadron members visited the school and met the principal and then made several deliveries to the teachers and children. Airmen were able to personally connect with some of the students in the classroom and on the playground.

The Machananao School project is just one of several deployed community relations
projects the 171 ARW has had the privilege to participate in. Wing members are always looking for ways of impacting our deployed communities and in the past have done such things as sponsor wing runners in a race in Incirlik, Turkey, raising $2,700 to buy furniture for the Sehan School for deaf children.

Airmen also donated two thousand pounds of clothing and school supplies for a neighboring school near Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan. In addition, members helped raise money to install air conditioning in the Bishkek Children's Heart Hospital surgical ward.

When deploying to Manta, Ecuador, 171 ARW volunteers collected, repaired, and delivered 120 bicycles and 60 school backpacks to the children of a local orphanage. Medical supplies were also donated and delivered to the local community, to include a heart/lung bypass machine. On flights to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, dozens of filled backpacks have been left for the chaplains to deliver to local children.

And finally, in the Pittsburgh area, Project Bundle Up is a charity that provides warm
jackets, boots, gloves, and scarves to needy local children. Wing members man the phones during the annual telethon, shop with the children to pick out properly fitting clothing, and even jump into the freezing river on New Year's Day as members of the "Polar Bear Club" to raise money for the cause.

As the wing tours the world and fills Air and Space Expeditionary Force rotations, members feel a need to serve the nation and to serve our deployed communities. Pittsburgh Airmen find great personal and professional fulfillment taking opportunities to reach out and give back to communities that support Air Force operations. As Guardsmen, community involvement is a natural part of military service and leaving places better makes for a satisfying mission on the ground as well as in the air.