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Airmen kept after school to launch rockets

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AFPN) -- Five! Four! Three! Two! One! Blast off!

This was the scream from students at Woodmen Hills Elementary on March 14 as airmen from the 1st Space Operations Squadron here helped 24 students see the rockets' red glare.

For five weeks in February and March, 25 volunteers from 1st SOPS helped students build and launch model rockets once a week after school.

Capt. Steve Behm introduced the students to space operations during the first week of the project. Behm, from the squadron's operations support flight and the program's originator, also did an overview of the purpose of satellites, rockets and how they work. Launching rockets left an impression on Behm from his elementary and college days, and he wanted to pass on what he has learned.

"This is a great hands-on experience in how it inspires students to want to get involved with America's space program," said Behm. "If we can inspire them now to learn about space, it could make space travel safer, more efficient and routine in the future."

The second and fourth weeks were devoted to constructing the model rockets.

"Their hands were in it," said Capt. Dave Meyer, chief of engineering for 1st SOPS. "It was rewarding to watch their faces light up as they were involved in the process from beginning to end."

As the model rockets took shape, the volunteers assisted in gluing the tail fins on. Once they were on and dry, each rocket had a face-lift with a little creativity, imagination and paint. Each rocket took a unique look of its own.

Some were red, white and blue while others were solid white. One took the shape of a P-40 fighter plane from the 14th Air Force "Flying Tigers."

"This helped me teach Calvin that something worth doing is worth doing right the first time," said parent Clark Corbin about his son's P-40 project.

The class culminated during the fifth week when the students launched their rockets after school, in front of an audience of more than 200 fellow classmates, teachers and parents. After three previous delays because of adverse weather, clear sky and ideal weather conditions contributed to successful launches.

Each model rocket is equipped with a built-in parachute that deploys at the end of the flight. One volunteer used an altitude meter to measure and calculate each rocket's height as it blasted off. Another waited in the recovery zone to help the students catch the rockets as they floated back to the ground.

"I love running around out here helping them try and catch their rockets," said Airman 1st Class Lee Heineken, in the recovery zone. "It doesn't get any better than this."

After all the model rockets were launched, Senior Airman John Mack, a veteran model rocketeer, built and launched a large rocket that wowed the entire group. He donated the rocket to the student whose model attained the highest altitude. The students also received launch certificates signed by the 1st SOPS director of operations, Maj. Steve Hamilton.

"It is a total win-win situation for both the students and the Schriever volunteers," said Susan Fields, Woodmen Hills Elementary principal. She said the most beneficial part of the program was the hands-on experience the children received, especially during the launches.

The squadron volunteers will repeat the model rocketry program in April and also plan to set up an after-school tutoring program.

"Being a role model in uniform is an awesome responsibility," said Master Sgt. Christos Derr. "The military is not all guns, tanks and bombs. The lighter side is we come out to teach, have fun and enjoy their company here." (Courtesy of Air Force Space Command News Service)

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