PORTLAND AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Ore. --
Start with more than a hundred enthusiastic kids, add a day full of intriguing activities, and then throw in nearly picture perfect weather, all to create a seamless recipe for the first ever "Kids Day at PANG," [Portland Air National Guard Base] here on April 25.
Arriving at the base Fire Station for the morning check in, families were greeted by volunteers and Ms. Amy Conroy, Airman and Family Readiness Program Manager for the 142nd Fighter Wing. Together they facilitated a schedule of the day's events geared toward age-related activities and interests.
"This is an opportunity for kids of military families to see what their parents do here on base and all the cool stuff that happens," said Conroy. "With all the stations we prepared, the day was definitely 'kid focused' and set up for a day of fun."
Although April has been designated "The Month of the Military Child" since 1986 by Department of Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger, no events have been established with the Oregon National Guard "to recognize the contribution and personal sacrifices our child make to our Armed Forces."
The significance of the day was highlighted during the afternoon lunch session as Oregon National Guard Command Sergeant Major Shane Lake and 142nd Fighter Wing Commander Col. Paul Fitzgerald acknowledged each family member in attendance and handed out a unique coin to each child. The grilled hot dogs and other food for lunch was donated and prepared by the local United States Organization (USO).
During the lunch celebration, Fitzgerald read from the Oregon National Guard Proclamation from the Office of the Governor of Oregon, Kate Brown: "...Oregon has more than 10,000 children connected to the military through a parent serving in the military."
The children attending this first state event represented just a fraction of those numbers, but their enthusiasm was evident all across the base; from trying on survival flight equipment, to the ropes and pulleys used by rescue crews, testing night vision goggles, and programing and testing robots at the STARBASE lab.
The day also produced another unique opportunity for parents and children to bond at the workplace. Senior Airman Brain Zimmerman, a client system engineer assigned to Joint Forces Headquarters in Salem, Oregon, connected with his son Trent while the two analyzed computer coding and robots in the lab.
The third-grader and his dad from Wilsonville made many trials and checks to get their robot in sync while also taking time to enjoy the company of others.
"He's pretty involved in the whole process," said a grinning father, Brian Zimmerman as they ran the first of many robot tests that kept them engaged in solving the problem together.
Trent was quick to diagnose the difficulties.
When asked what the biggest obstacle he discovered in the obstacle course with his robot, he quickly replied, "First test was not that good; it was not easy getting the wheels to turn when you need them to turn. I'll have to go back to the computer and do more work to the program," he said.
Ann Dombkowski, a local USO volunteer, assisted others with their tests and remarked how much she learned in the process as well.
"I just love this event, the coins the kids received were beautiful and it was easy to see it meant a lot to them being recognized," she said.
The base-wide event allowed the Air Force Reserve's 304th Rescue Squadron to also participate. Survival and rescue gear was on display and gave the older kids in attendance the chance to interact with Airmen who train around the globe, allowing Maj. Chris Bernard, assigned to the unit, a chance to quiz their knowledge.
"Does anyone want to guess how much this parachute pack weighs," he said, holding up one of the many packs on display. As one of the kids stepped up to try it on, the group laughed as he struggled to stay on his feet while adjusting to the load.
As the day wrapped up, Conroy reflected on the success of the overall event and was appreciative of how many people contributed to 'Kids Day at PANG.'
"From senior leadership to the volunteers and sponsors, everyone made the day memorable for so many of these kids," she said. "I know it was meaningful because I heard some of them [kids] say that they wish they could do this every day."
For additional information about "The Month of the Military Child" go to: http://www.defense.gov/home/features/2014/0414_militarychild/