Building dreams back home

  • Published
  • By Valerie Mullett
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs Office
Several members of the 819th RED HORSE Squadron recently returned from a seven-month deployment where they completed multi-million dollar projects assisting the Afghanistan and Iraqi people with rebuilding their communities.

For one rural Montana town about eight miles east of Fairfield, the contributions of the 819th RHS can't be measured in monetary worth.

"What they have done for us is huge," said Chris Christensen, school board chairman of the Greenfield School. "There is no other way to say it. We could not have done it without them."

What they did was help four employees of the Summit Recreation Company and a handful of community volunteers assemble a new playground Aug. 15 to 17 in time for the opening of school Aug. 21.

"These children have been raising funds through bake sales and candle sales with help from the Parent Teacher Association for five years trying to earn enough money to buy a new slide," said Caroline Forseth, school district clerk.

The children she refers to are the 58 students in grades K-8 who attend the rural school and they raised nearly $8,000 through their efforts. It was enough to buy their slide, but not enough to upgrade the dated swings and lopsided merry-go-round.

"When we met at the end of the 2007 school year, we decided to try and raise some more money through grants and donations," Mr. Christensen said. "Instead of just buying a slide with a twist in it, I convinced the other members that if we were going to do this, we should do it right."

With the decision made to go all out and purchase a state-of-the-art playground, the next thing that had to be considered was how to get it installed.

"My son-in-law is a retired RED HORSE member and he mentioned that the unit would often do community service projects," Mrs. Forseth said. "So I called Malmstrom and was put in touch with Master Sgt. [Lawrence] Lenneman. This is the worst time of year to try and get local volunteers because we are a farming community and it is the peak of harvest season for us right now. We really wanted the playground done for the start of school."

The plea to the 819th RHS did not go unheard.

"They contacted us well in advance, at least two months out," Sergeant Lenneman said. "Once leadership approved the project, it was just a matter of picking the dates and lining up volunteers. I sent out e-mails and before I knew it, I had the help I needed."

Equipped with some minor tools like shovels and picks, sporting their prominent red caps and ready to lend the muscle to get the job done, 35 members of the engineering squadron drove the hour and fifteen minute ride twice a day for three days to complete yet another mission.

While not everyone was there all three of the days, Sergeant Lenneman was quick to praise all who came out to support the rural community's cause.

"Without the volunteers on Friday, we couldn't have gotten through the work on Saturday. And without the volunteers on Saturday, we couldn't have made it to Sunday," he said. "We got the job done and it was fun for all of us."

This is the third playground the 819th RHS has helped assemble in the surrounding communities.

"This was an easy one to take on because the end result is for the kids," Sergeant Lenneman said. "I hope they have as much fun playing on it as we had putting it together for them."

Mrs. Forseth said the children knew they were getting something new for the playground, but "they have no idea of the magnitude of the new equipment."

Jenny May, third and fourth grade teacher at the school, said she had to close the blinds on her classroom windows the first day because it faces the playground and all her students wanted to do was look longingly at it waiting for recess.

This is truly a wonderful thing for our school, our kids, our rural community . . . for generations to come," said Sue Banis, Greenfield School administrative secretary.

If those 58 children knew the all-familiar cheer associated with an 819th job well done, they would all be chanting in unison: "To the Horse!"