The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

December 5, 2012

Vance AFB’s ‘Operation Santa Wings’ supports children of military families

By James Neal, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — With Christmas approaching, many holiday programs offer grateful residents the chance to provide some holiday cheer to military members serving overseas.

A new program at Vance Air Force Base is taking a different approach this holiday season, giving the community a chance to support and say “Thank you” to the children of military families.

“Operation Santa Wings” is collecting donations for children of some of Vance Air Force Base’s lowest-income airmen.

Kasey Bolton, whose husband serves in the 71st Security Forces Squadron at Vance Air Force Base, said the squadron’s Key Spouse Program founded Operation Santa Wings this year with a mission “to show our military children they are always in our hearts, and to say ‘thank you,’ especially during the holiday season.”

Bolton said children of military families face constant change, including frequent moves, deployment of family members and having to settle into new schools and make new friends.

“The focus of most military support programs is on deployment, but we want to focus on the children who are here at home, to let them know they’re being thought of,” Bolton said.

Santa Wings is collecting donations of gifts, or money to buy gifts, to support base children.

Bolton said this year’s Santa Wings project is limited to the 71st Security Forces Squadron, but she hopes to gather more volunteers and expand the project to the base’s other squadrons in the future.

For many of the children, Bolton said the greatest gift would be recognition from the community of their unique challenges and the sacrifices made by their family.

“The goal really is simplicity,” Bolton said. “They don’t need enormous things. Just some form of memento as a ‘thank you’ from the community would mean a lot. It also makes the parents feel good just to know they’re being thanked.”

Other families, particularly junior enlisted families, have more tangible needs this holiday season.

Bolton said the 71st Security Forces Squadron was chosen to start the program, in part because the squadron primarily is comprised of young, lower-income airmen and their spouses, most with at least one child.

According to the Air Force pay scale, an airman starts out with a base pay of about $20,000 a year, and a senior airman with more than three years in the service still makes less than $26,000.

Bolton said she has worked with the squadron to identify families “that could greatly benefit from some additional assistance.”

She said the program will be collecting gifts or donations for 68 children, ranging from newborns to 15 years old.

“Many of these families will not be able to afford a Christmas for their children, and have struggled throughout the year just to provide the basics,” Bolton said. “Therefore, I am asking for any form of donation ... to give these children a gift for Christmas and a memory that will last forever.”

Bolton said organizers are asking for warm clothing for children ages newborn to 2 years, and age-appropriate gifts for children 3-15 years old. She said donations need to be collected by Dec. 21 in order to be prepared for delivery on Christmas Eve. All donations are tax deductible.

Monetary donations can be made out to Operation Santa Wings and sent to 1264 Hurst Dr., Enid OK 73703. A collection box for donations also has been placed at Old Navy, 3326 W. Garriott.

For information, call Bolton at (580) 977-4631, or email her at kasey.bolton @ymail.com.