Iowa ANG unit brings joy to area children

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Joseph Kapinos
  • 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Members of an Air National Guard unit on temporary duty here brought happiness to hundreds of area children by transforming an empty lot into a functioning playground.

The members were from the 185th Air Refueling Wing, which is based in Sioux City, Iowa. While deployed to Incirlik providing air refueling support to the Central Command Area of Responsibility, the guardsmen became the 90th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron under the 385th Air Expeditionary Group. When not doing their primary duties and responsibilities, however, they took personal time to enhance the lives of those around them, which is something these Airmen are well known for doing.

"This wing has a long history of helping people wherever we go, wherever we deploy," said Master Sgt. Margaret Kelly, superintendent of Personnel Support for Contingency Operations, for the wing while at Incirlik. Sergeant Kelly also spoke of the times when the wing was participating in exercises at Tucson, members of the unit would volunteer at an area orphanage.

"Whether it's here in Turkey or back in the states, this wing is proud of its willingness to help those in need," said Sergeant Kelly.

Soon after arriving in Turkey, the Airmen started the search for a project that would help those who were unable to help themselves. The unit commanders, along with other officers and non-commissioned officers, spoke with Orhan Danis, who owns a local restaurant, to help find a project they could complete. Mr. Danis pointed out several areas where the wing could volunteer, including a vacant lot covered in trash, water and debris where children played on a daily basis. It was the perfect fit for the guardsmen.

"You couldn't imagine how sad it was to see children playing in these conditions," said Sergeant Kelly. "It was not unusual to see two- and three-year-olds playing in the lot and in the street with their older siblings watching them. We decided right then and there we were going to do what was needed to provide these children with a safe and proper place to play."

After scouting the location for their community outreach project, the unit members worked with local officials to coordinate prices for the playground equipment, sand and construction materials for the project. The team also worked with officials from the local mayor's office to secure permission to work in the area, a process that had to be completed before any work started. Once all the bids had been completed and permission granted, then the hard work started for the wing.

Volunteers from the wing spent several weekends at the lot clearing debris, removing large rocks and standing water from the location. Large amounts of sand and gravel were then brought in to provide a level and safe playing surface for the children. A front-end loader was brought in for the first delivery of sand and to help move it around the lot. After that, the second load of sand needed to be moved and leveled by hand, one wheelbarrow load at a time.

"That was the toughest part of the project, moving the sand. And I should know, as I was on shovel detail for that day," said Sergeant Kelly with a smile. "But it was worth it, to see the kids smiling and talking to us. They truly got to know us while we were there. They even made lots of effort to expand their language skills by speaking English.

"One of the volunteers was a big, tall kid who grew up on a farm," laughed Sergeant Kelly. "I mean, what can you expect from Iowa? Anyway, the kids just swarmed him, calling him 'Big Foot'."

Despite weather issues, the park came to life, especially with the delivery of playground equipment, all paid for by the members of the wing. The two-month project cost close to $1,000, all donated by the members of the wing themselves.

"I am so proud to be a part of this wing and part of this project," said Sergeant Kelly. "When we told the team this project was directly for children in need, the wallets flew open and hands came flying up to volunteer to help.

"It truly feels good to know we helped those children have a brighter day," she added.

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