RAF MILDENHALL, England – Try to imagine a sub-zero February in the former Soviet Union. A frozen white field lies ahead, and off in the distance small children are walking to school.
As the children steadily come closer, it becomes more and more evident that these little tikes are drudging along without winter jackets, hats or gloves. The youthful twinkle is still in their eyes, but a sad, frozen gaze encompasses their faces.
A feeling of dismay sets in.
Thanks to the efforts of hundreds of Lakenheath Middle School students, hope replaced desperation for many Kyrgyz children.
In a campaign called Snow Plough Express, the students and their teacher, Kay Taylor, raised 50 boxes of winter clothing for three orphanages near the transit center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan.
Lt. Col. Bradley Allen, 376th Expeditionary Maintenance Group commander, worked hand in hand with Taylor to orchestrate the effort. Admittedly, Allen is not the first to spearhead such an event, but said efforts are growing more successful with each rotation and the children’s faces at Nizhanchuisk, Nadjeshda and Tok Mok II orphanages are testimony to that.
“The effort to help these orphanages was really born out of the kindness of the folks assigned here at the transit center, and each successive rotation has seemed to raise the bar,” said Allen, deployed from the 100th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at RAF Mildenhall. “I believe our folks just really want to see the kids better off.”
Recently the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs released a similar story where Dental Hygiene Program students and instructors from Blinn College in Bryan, Texas, worked with a lieutenant colonel deployed from Dover Air Force Base, Del., to raise donations for a Kyrgyz orphanage.
"We are so blessed [in America], and I felt like we needed to do something to help these children," said Blinn College Dental Hygiene Instructor Marque' Mathis, in the news story. Mathis is the aunt of Lt. Col. Lee Landis, 376th AEW safety officer.
Still in Kyrgyzstan, Allen will witness firsthand the improvements the Lakenheath children are bringing to their brothers and sisters across the globe.
“These children will be able to enjoy much better and warmer clothing than they currently have,” said Allen. “These children are much, much less fortunate than we are. This just proves how kind and compassionate [people can be] — which is a huge paradigm shift for a lot of the Kyrgyz folks here who were taught growing up that the U.S. was something different.”
Kyrgyzstan became its own country less than 20 years ago. Prior to that, the Kyrgyz Republic belonged to the former Soviet Union. Allen said he’s no expert on national security but believes American presence will set the stage for long-term peace.
“It seems very logical that if people and countries around the world at least favor and support what we do, then perhaps we’d have a lot fewer problems and issues to have deal with,” he said.
The Kyrgyz children are not the only ones who learned lessons in the importance of international relationships with this endeavor, Allen said. Taylor’s students also educated themselves by working as a team to help children across the globe. For this effort, the lieutenant colonel lauded Taylor.
“By their service, Mrs. Taylor and her family have already given a great sacrifice for the sake of our country,” said Allen. “To see her still wanting to continue to reach out to help folks she doesn’t even know … well she’s undoubtedly one of the most thoughtful, kindest people I have ever met. It’s a great life-long lesson she’s taught our kids.”