Airmen begin exercise by providing children 'trip of a lifetime'

  • Published
  • By Capt. Nathan D. Broshear
  • Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Public Affairs
For members of Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern), a trip to the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility typically begins with a long aircraft ride (often more than 10 hours), followed by a day of rest prior to beginning their mission of building partner nation capacity, relationships and expertise. Members of the AFSOUTH Cooperation Team -- One, instead of resting, took the first hours of their mission to organize and fund a trip to an interactive museum for children of the Centro Comunitario Angels, or 'Angels Community Center', a school for at-risk children in Santiago, Chile.

"After a quick nap, we put on our uniforms and jumped on a bus to the school," said Capt. Randy Saldivar, a public affairs officer with the Texas Air National Guard -- an organization with strong ties to Chile as part of the Texas-Chile State Partnership Program.

"It's important to capitalize on every moment of our mission in Latin America to build relationships with our friends -- whether that's Airmen in the Fuerza Aerea Chile (Chilean Air Force) or with charitable organizations, it's all worth it," said Capt. Saldivar.

For the 14 children and four "tias" ('aunt' in Spanish -- a term of affection used for caretakers), the event was a historic opportunity to visit a world-renowned science museum built especially to educate children through interactive displays; the Museo Interactivo Mirador.

Pilar Paredes, the primary caretaker at the school, accompanied the group to the museum. "(Quotes translated from Spanish by AFSOUTH staff)...I've worked here for five years, and this is the first time we've had any sort of outing with the children," she said. "We managed to keep this a secret until just before the Airmen arrived....once we announced the trip, the children were very excited -- this is a trip of a lifetime for them."

Organizing the day's outing required a team effort between US and Chilean organizations. AFSOUTH Operations and Public Affairs staff arranged transportation while members of the U.S. Embassy-Chile worked with Chilean executives at the Museo Interactivo Mirador for a special group admission rate and other arrangements. Spouses of local FACh officers accompanied the group, providing valuable translation skills and motherly patience. The AFSOUTH CT-1 Airmen brought candy and gifts for the entire school, and then each sponsored three or four of the eager children's admission to the museum.

"The museum staff really treated the children...and us, like VIPs," said Capt. Saldivar. "The displays here are perfect for anyone -- children and adults were able to learn about the world in a fun and educational environment; and best of all was that every lesson is hands-on and interactive."

Airmen spent hours chasing their guests through mirrored halls, testing electrical circuits, navigating optical illusions, levitating objects with air currents, playing giant pianos in their socks, and lifting their friends on chairs rigged to various pulleys. After an afternoon of learning, the team headed back to the school, thankful for the experience...yet sad at the impending parting. Several of the children clung to Airmen, insisting on a few more moments of attention, photographs and memories.

"Thank you for visiting us," said Ms. Paredes as she kissed each Airman. As the visit drew to a close, the children presented Airmen with hand-made cards they had colored themselves.

"We'll be back," exclaimed the Airmen as they opened the cards. The children stood by as the team read the inscriptions inside the cards.

"En cada niƱo una sonrisa y en cada sonrisa una gestitud" (translation: "In every child a smile, in every smile is gratitude.")