Airmen race against time for Manta kids

  • Published
  • By Maj. Chris Hemrick
  • 478th Expeditionary Operations Squadron Public Affairs
When the 171st Air Refueling Wing from the Pittsburgh Air National Guard heard they were going to deploy here to support the 478th Expeditionary Operations Squadron, boom operator Master Sgt. John Buckwalter asked, "What can we do to help the community when we arrive?"

The answer? Collect 118 bicycles within the next 154 hours to donate to children of Manta - and the 171st rose to the challenge.

Sergeant Buckwalter and the 171st led the effort and successfully gathered the entire amount in less than one week. Bicycles started pouring in from personnel assigned to the Manta Forward Operating Location, plus their friends and families back home in the United States, who donated the bicycles.

"Some people even purchased brand-new bikes so they could bring them to Manta," said Sergeant Buckwalter.

Once bicycles arrived, volunteers moved them into the one of three bays provided by the Life Support team. Then they created a safety checklist and worked on the bicycles to ensure they were in good shape.

Volunteers then donated the bikes to the local community between January and February. Twenty-nine bikes were donated to children at the Montañita Verde orphanage; 48 were donated to host nation employees of Dyncorp and Stampa, contractors who support the forward operating location. The final 37 were donated to students taking an English class taught by volunteers at the Albergue School.

"I think it's fantastic how organizations who come here TDY - sometimes only for a couple of weeks - quickly become involved in our community relations program and make a tremendous impact. Master Sergeant Buckwalter and the 171st have blown away everyone's expectations with what they accomplished during their short time here," said Lt. Col. Javier Delucca, 478th EOS commander.

Sergeant Buckwalter said, "The infrastructure and leadership at this base made this possible. We're hoping this is the beginning of something great. We look forward to the effort continuing with each tanker group that swaps out, where the next guys can even do better than this."

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