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Guard helps out Greenland school

STRATTON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.Y. -- Reaching out to the community is nothing new for the men and women of the 109th Airlift Wing. They have always stepped up to the plate in more ways than one in providing community support over the years. So it should be no surprise that these good deeds would extend and reach all the way to Greenland.

On June 2, Maj. Matt LeClair, of the 139th Airlift Squadron's Greenland shop, and others headed up to visit and drop off needed school items to Qinngulata Atuarfia Elementary School in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. It was one of many trips the unit had arranged over the years while in country performing routine Guard missions. But this day was more special than most for the school; this was the first community day event ever organized.

"This community day was just a natural progression of our involvement and association with the school," Major LeClair said. "We have field trips to the base here that kids really enjoy. They love the airplane tour and the demonstration of the cargo loading and offloading equipment, so it made perfect sense that the kids in Kangerlussuaq would enjoy that as well.

"We also had these donated items we wanted to give them, and we wanted to make it more special than just the normal drop off of supplies."

The day included a tour of the LC-130 aircraft, a K-loader demonstration as well as a barbecue. But for the kids, the surprise was the brand-new toys they would be receiving.

Since the toys were a surprise, it was like Christmas morning for these kids, said Tech. Sgt. Richard Kirker of the 109th Maintenance Group's hydraulics shop.

The toys, still in their boxes, were from Toys R Us and The Dollar Tree. The stores had held toy drives around Christmas and turned to Stratton Air National Guard Base to distribute them.

"We distributed as much as we could to our military families and then sent the large remainder of items to the kids in Greenland," said Joanna Yesse, 109th AW family program coordinator. "The Family Support Group and I believed this was a good use of the toys seeing that many of these kids would never have the opportunity to have brand-new toys like this."

Although the toys were a big hit with the students, the school supplies given to the school throughout the year were a big hit with the teachers.

But the school supplies didn't just come from the base; Major LeClair reached out to the local community for some help, specifically Glencliff Elementary School in Rexford.

"Glencliff was chosen because it was very close to the base, and it's highly impacted by our daily flight operations," Major LeClair said. "So we thought that would be a good choice to strengthen our relationship with the local community and that school."

Glencliff jumped at the chance and used the opportunity to add Greenland to the curriculum. The teachers even contacted the English teacher in Greenland, Elsemarie Asmussen. Soon after, teachers were exchanging e-mails, and students were writing letters back and forth. Meanwhile, parents and children collected playground equipment and school supplies to send to Greenland.

"This year we had almost $1,000 of donated school supplies and playground equipment from Glencliff Elementary," Major LeClair said.

During the trip to drop off the supplies, Master Sgt. Mike Decker, of the 109th Aerial Port Flight, saw the need for more supplies.

"(Elsemarie) mentioned she had been trying for a few years to get some sports equipment but hadn't been able to," Sergeant Decker said. "I said the aerial port would take care of it."

Sergeant Decker put the word out through the squadron and within two weeks, they delivered nearly $500 worth of sports equipment from donations, along with a container to hold the equipment in.

The squadron has collected even more equipment since, which they planned to deliver in July.

Stevens Elementary School and Charlton Heights Elementary School, both in the Burnt Hills School District, also stepped up to the challenge. They were able to collect 10 boxes of books, including two full encyclopedia volumes.

"It's just a positive experience because they get these toys for recess, so we don't have as many fights," Ms. Asmussen said. "We also got books they can use and look at which will help them further their education. If they learn the English language they (have the opportunity to) get further along than their parents."

And while many guardsmen donated items and cash to help out the school, others donated their time to be with the kids during the community day.

"People jumped at the chance to help," Major LeClair said. "On a day that was supposed to be a light work day with no flying, they came out and really gave of themselves to make the community day a wonderful event for everybody."

For the volunteers, it wasn't considered work.

"It was a lot of fun," Sergeant Kirker said. "It was like we were all kids, too. It was actually a really nice break from the work we do up there."

"I never had any interaction with the locals up there before this, so it was really nice," said Master Sgt. Kelly Archambeault of the 109th Logistics Readiness Squadron. "(The kids) were so excited. ... There were footballs and basketballs flying everywhere."

Many of the Airmen agree that not only is this a good show of community support, it also helps the 109th AW's mission in Greenland.

"Kids are so innocent that they have no judgment of us; now they (see us in a positive light), and their parents will see that," Sergeant Kirker said.

Both Sergeants Kirker and Archambeault said they saw an immediate difference after spending time with the kids.

"They never had any interaction with us before," Sergeant Archambeault said. "But now, when we're walking to and from work, the kids come up and talk to you and thank you and give you hugs.

"They loved having us there," she said. "They see us up there all the time, so now they know who we are and a little bit of what we're doing up there."

Major LeClair said it's extremely important for the mission, as well as the kids, to reach out to the community.

"The goal is that these children will better their language skills which will broaden their educational experience," he said. "Going forward, these particular children who come in contact with the 109th will be more competitive than their counterparts throughout Greenland and will succeed in high-level jobs. Hopefully they will remember their experiences with the 109th and that will strengthen our relationship (in the future)."

Many of the volunteers are ready to go back again.

"I'm already planning on going back," said Airman 1st Class Joshua Eldredge. "And if I have the chance to, I'd love to be a part of the next community day."

Major LeClair said he plans to make community day an annual event. He said Airmen can help out in many ways to make it even more successful than this year.

"Because of the weather and time of year, the community day will be fairly firm in the schedule of late May, early June," he said. "If people want to participate, they can select to go up to Greenland during that time.

"Furthermore, they can check with their own child's school and see if they would be interested in a fundraising collection of donated specific items that are requested by the school in Kangerlussuaq. Any member of the 109th with the proper direction can go out into their local community and school (to collect items).

"We can continue to make it better each year," he said. "Perhaps there's potential that we can go to other communities in Greenland."

Major LeClair said many people were instrumental in making this a success. Just a few of those people include: Chief Master Sgt. Mark Schaible, Senior Master Sgt. Marty Herzog and Sergeant Decker, all from the 109th APF; Senior Master Sgt. Fred Bochenek and Master Sgt. Jim Hanaway and from the 109th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron; Master Sgts. Pete Latniak and Archambeault from the 109th LRS; and Maj. Jeff Smith of the 139th AS.