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Airmen take heed for those in need

Staff Sgt. Robert Forbes paints a column on a piece of playground equipment at the Umut-Nadjeshda Children's Rehabilitation Center in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, May 9. A group of Airmen visited the center in their off-duty time to help install a stove and improve the children's playground. Sergeant Forbes is a vehicle maintenance technician assigned to the 376th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron at nearby Manas Air Base. He is deployed from the 366th LRS at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, and his hometown is Tucson, Ariz. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Charles M. Wade)

Staff Sgt. Robert Forbes paints a column on a piece of playground equipment at the Umut-Nadjeshda Children's Rehabilitation Center in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, May 9. A group of Airmen visited the center in their off-duty time to help install a stove and improve the children's playground. Sergeant Forbes is a vehicle maintenance technician assigned to the 376th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron at nearby Manas Air Base. He is deployed from the 366th LRS at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, and his hometown is Tucson, Ariz. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Charles M. Wade)

MANAS AIR BASE, Kyrgyzstan -- Deep in Kyrgyzstan's capitol city of Bishkek, ten Airmen from nearby Manas Air Base took some time from their busy schedules to help make a difference at the Umut-Nadjeshda Children's Rehabilitation Center.

The off-duty Airmen knew they were going to have a good time when they were greeted with smiling faces and friendly waves. One child came up and started shaking hands with everyone, and inquired what was in the big box they brought along.

Before arriving, the Airmen stopped at a local home decorating store and picked up some paint and a new stove for their fourth visit to the center since January.

Master Sergeant Mike Cantos, the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Ground Safety Manager and Nadjeshda Center volunteer committee leader, requested funds from the base's Top-3 council to pay for a new stove that was badly needed. Like with many other volunteer efforts to help the local Kyrgyz communities near the base, the Top-3 members unanimously voted to approve the request.

"The old stove was in bad shape, and only two burners work," said Sergeant Cantos. "They have a lot of kids to cook for and this will cut their time in half. The playground equipment is also deteriorating and was in need of some new paint to make it look nicer," he said.

Work started immediately after the volunteers arrived on a beautiful Saturday morning. Three of the Airmen went to work tearing out the old stove and installing the new one, while the others pulled out the brushes, cracked the cans of paint and started in on the faded playground equipment.

"It's good to help out an organization that is in need," said Master Sgt. Ken McCullough, a superintendent for the 376th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron. "We are so blessed to be able to share our skills, love, and good fortune with our Kyrgyz neighbors. You can tell right away that we are making a great difference."

Before installing the new stove, Master Sergeant John Pahukoa, noticed there was no neutral in the original configuration of the stove circuit.

"I reconfigured the wiring in the receptacle to match the stove and bonded the neutral and ground in the main panel," explained Sergeant Pahukoa, an expert electrician who serves as the 376th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron Electrical and Fire Alarm Systems Quality Assurance Evaluator. "If we would have just plugged the new stove in without reconfiguring the circuit, it would have posed a shock-hazard."

The time the children spend on the playground is often therapeutic, helping them improve their motor and social skills. The Airmen noticed the equipment was faded and peeling and saw yet another opportunity to help improve a little part of the children's lives.

"We only saw a few of the children that attend or live at the school, but we know that what we did today helps benefit them all," said Master Sergeant Richard Gower Jr., superintendent for the 376th Expeditionary Logistic Readiness Squadron vehicle management flight.

After nearly three hours of work, the staff from the school invited the Airmen to sit and have chi tea and cookies. The room erupted in laughter as the children and volunteer Airmen tossed a balloon around.

"Children here are no different from anywhere else," said Master Sgt. Roland Talon. "The children at Nadjeshda are orphans - some of them disabled - and they still deserve to smile, laugh and experience love," said the 376th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron flight chief for readiness & emergency management.

The children didn't speak English and the Airmen didn't speak Kyrgyz or Russian, but what the Airmen did to help out spoke volumes to the residents and staff of the Nadjeshda Center.

"The kids here do not have very many positive things in their lives," said Master Sergeant Robert Spychalski, 376th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron KC-135 section chief. "This was just one small opportunity to bring some happiness and support to kids in need," he said.

"It was just nice to play with the kids and see the smiles on their faces," said Staff Sergeant Robert Forbes Jr., 376th Expeditionary LRS vehicle maintenance technician. "That alone is worth the trip."