Air Commandos visit orphanage in Philippines

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Aaron Cram
  • 353rd Special Operations Group
Airmen from the 353rd Special Operations Group visited an orphanage in Angeles City, Pampanga in the Philippines Jan. 19 before returning home from an overnight mission supporting U.S. Army forces deployed for Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines.

Members of the 17th Special Operations Squadron, 353rd Operations Support Squadron and Detachment 3 of the 25th Intelligence Squadron stopped by the Duyan ni Maria, which translates to Mary's Cradle, orphanage and single mothers home with boxes of clothing, shoes, toys, books and school supplies all donated by Airmen and their families from the 353rd SOG.

The Airmen planned to read, play and socialize with people living and working at the orphanage during the visit. Once they arrived, it didn't take long before their plan was underway and they could see how the visit was affecting the people at the orphanage. The mothers immediately started looking for the correct sizes of shoes and clothes while the children focused on the toys and books.

"I can't say enough how much the donations meant to the kids and their mothers," said Capt. Zak Blom, a 17th SOS pilot. "The mothers immediately started looking for correct sizes of shoes and clothes for their children. The children were ecstatic with little stuffed animals and anything they could throw around like footballs and Frisbees. Some of the kids clung to books asking people to read to them right away."

This visit to the orphanage is not the first of its kind for the 353rd SOG. Whenever the group travels throughout the Pacific, members of the group think these visits are very important and try to schedule trips to local orphanages and schools.

"Of course these visits are important for the children and recipients of help, but they are also important for us," said Captain Blom. "They force us to go out and get a real perspective on this part of the world. It also puts all the little problems we have on a day-to-day basis in perspective and makes you look at how lucky most of us really are."

One person on the trip already knew firsthand about life in the Philippines. Staff Sgt. Will Cordero, a direct support operator with Detachment 3, immigrated to the United States after growing up in the Philippines.

"Since I myself am a native Filipino, I feel blessed whenever I make these kinds of visits," he said. "Blessed because I've had the opportunity to immigrate to the U.S., as well as be able to serve in the Air Force. Life in the Philippines is very difficult, money is tight, and people are sometimes forced to have jobs that are not the most ideal jobs in the world just to make ends meet. So, whenever I get a chance, I like to give back just to show my gratitude for everything I have been given. Even if all I can do is give gifts and spend some time with them and make them smile for a bit."

During their two-hour visit, the SOG Airmen enjoyed their time immensely. They even wished they could stay longer because they witnessed how important their visit was to the people at the orphanage.

"These types of visits give you mixed emotions," said Captain Blom. "Of course you are sad and feel for the children. You also hope you leave a positive impression that goes further than just the clothes or shoes you bring. I think we could have come with anything and the kids would have had a great day just having people around playing with them and paying attention to them. They were literally smiling, laughing and playing the whole time. There is no question the most valuable commodity we provided that day was our time."

Capt. Matt Halladay, a 17th SOS navigator and the person who coordinated the visit, was also moved by the visit, and is ready to do it again.

"It was touching to see the excitement in the kids eyes as they were receiving the things we brought them and playing with the toys," he said. "It's amazing that a child you don't even know is just smiling at you because you are there spending time with them. I cannot describe in words how it felt. I will definitely remember this visit for a long time to come; and I hope that I will have a chance to do this again in my life."