Deployed servicemembers complete playground for local children

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Marc Barnes
  • 321st Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs
Volunteers at a forward-deployed location in the Arabian Gulf region completed hours of hard work in the blazing sun recently to build a playground for children in a neighboring town.

More than 100 volunteers participated in the project, which included removing jagged rocks and shattered glass from the site and then installing three playground sets and spreading sand around the new equipment.

This effort marked the end of a four-month process, which included planning the project, raising funds, shipping supplies from the United States, and countless hours of work by civil engineers here to construct the playground equipment before it was installed at the site.

The project began when Col. Ronald Shultz, a former 321st Air Expeditionary Group commander, visited the town and noticed dozens of children playing in empty lots. He asked local officials if servicemembers here could build playground equipment for the children. When the local officials said yes, Shultz started the ball rolling by forming a committee to plan the project.

"This project started before I arrived here," said Col. Rick Carter, a former 321st AEG vice commander who worked on the project after Shultz returned home. "The (committee) felt this would be a good community event, so they started raising the money for the project."

The committee held various fundraisers, but after raising more than $4,400, realized the playground they hoped to build would cost much more than that. According to Carter, that is when several "humanitarian heroes" stepped in.

Master Sgt. Lorne Peterson, a member of the Delaware Air National Guard who was deployed to the 321st AEG when the project began, told friends at Young Lumber Company in Wilmington, Del., what volunteers here were planning. When company officials heard about the committee's efforts, they donated the lumber for the project.

"We would not have been able to purchase all the wood, so that was a great help," Carter said.

The committee decided to use the funds they raised to pay for slides, swings, monkey bars, hardware and playground plans. By July 1, all of the materials needed for the project were ready for shipment from the United States.

"That's when we hit a snag," said Carter.

The materials sat in the United States for more than a month awaiting shipment. But when a shipping company offered to deliver the materials here -- free of charge -- the project started rolling again.

"(Shipping) probably would have cost us $50,000, but (the company) brought it here and unloaded it for us," Carter said. "Then we were able to do our part by actually putting the playground together."

When the materials arrived at the end of August, people working on the project here faced what may have been the biggest obstacle yet -- deciphering the playground plans and preparing the materials and playground site for construction.

That final step in the project required nearly two weeks of work by dozens of civil engineers and other volunteers. According to Carter, all of the work paid off when the playground was completed and dedicated.

Capt. Joe Morrissey, who is deployed to the 321st AEG from the 267th Combat Communications Squadron at Otis Air National Guard Base, Mass., was a volunteer during the project. He said the biggest payoff for him was seeing the town's children enjoying the new playground.

"It was nice to be able to give something to the children," Morrissey said. "Now, they have something to play on when they get out of school, something that is better than what they had."