Yujiro Nakamura of the Awase Special Needs School receives his silver medal from Chief Master Sgt. Jack Johnson Jr. after competing in the softball throw event during the 2007 Special Olympic Games June 24 at Kadena Air Base, Japan. More than 1,500 people volunteered in this year's Special Olympics at Kadena AB. Chief Johnson is the 18th Wing command chief. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jeremy McGuffin)
by Airman 1st Class Kasey Zickmund
18th Wing Public Affairs
6/27/2007 - KADENA AIR BASE, Japan (AFPN) -- More than 1,500 volunteers from different branches of the U.S. military and the local community helped with the 2007 Special Olympic Games June 24 held for the eighth year at Kadena Air Base.
More than 900 athletes and 200 artists gathered for one of Japan's biggest events.
The volunteers helped in a variety of duties including translation, score keeping, medal presentations, logistical and medical support, and food preparation and distribution.
"This event exemplifies the volunteer spirit and radiates throughout the American and Japanese communities as we celebrate the achievements of special needs athletes and artists throughout Okinawa," said Chip Steitz, the senior adviser for Kadena AB's Special Olympics.
The planning committee worked for six months and spent more than 4,000 volunteer hours getting ready for the large numbers of athletes and activities. Thirty different teams that were responsible for food, volunteers, events, entertainment, security and medical needs.
"I've been amazed by the volunteers here," said Alonna Barnhart, the chairman of the Special Olympics. "I was in the commissary and people would stop me to ask how they can help. Without the volunteers, this event would not be possible."
The cost to put on the event was about $70,000 and it was all raised through fundraisers, golf tournaments and cash donations. The fundraisers were accomplished with the help of volunteers.
"I volunteered this year because I did last year and it was a blast," said Airman 1st Class Jennifer Scott, an 18th Equipment Maintenance Squadron structural maintainer. "I love the kids who come out here. I think it is great they have an opportunity to show us their strong points, and to see everyone from the different services and the local community out here cheering them on."
The goal of the event was to show Special Olympians as incredible people who have overcome tremendous hurdles and serve as role models of persistence, acceptance and hope, according to Brig. Gen. Brett T. Williams, the 18th Wing commander.
"Kadena has taken great pride in hosting the Special Olympics for the past eight years," General Williams said. "The commitment and dedication of each person here promotes better lives for people with special gifts reaching far beyond the confines of the stadium and this event."
Athletes participated in a wide range of events, which included the 100-meter dash and ground golf, among many others. Artists also displayed their talents in an art show in the Kadena High School gymnasium. The event benefited not only the athletes and artists, but also their families.
"We are having a lot of fun," said Kiyono Teruya, mother of Riku Teruya, 9, who competed in the 50-meter dash. "My favorite thing is the cartoon characters, and the volunteers are a big help. I can't wait to come back next year with my son."
According to the Special Olympics chairman, the event has grown each year. This year's event, she said, approached the maximum capacity for its present location.