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Air Force families in Charleston collect donations for hospitalized Haitian children

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Airmen and families from Joint Base Charleston and its surrounding communities in South Carolina collected dozens of stuffed animals, coloring books, crayons and 'get well wishes' for Haitian children recovering in the Air Force Expeditionary Medical Squadron in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Today, these gifts are bringing much-needed smiles to scores of children in the earthquake ravaged country.

"This was a combined effort between Airmen and the local community," said Lt. Col. Jesse Strickland, the 437th Operations Group Chief of Aircrew Standardization and Air Component Coordination Element member at Joint Task Force-Haiti. "These toys and coloring books are something a child can do while recovering in a hospital bed, interacting with nurses and staff to ensure they don't lose hope for the future."

The donation drive began with a small group of Airmen at the 437th Operations Support Squadron, but once other squadrons, spouses, members of the 437th Airlift Wing, the 628th Air Base Wing and the local community found out about the opportunity, donations began to roll into the unit.

"I wasn't surprised at all by the outpouring of caring the community, the Air Force family and Joint Base Charleston have shown -- that's their way...they take care of people," Colonel Strickland said.

Many of the patients seen at the Air Force medical facilities had life-threatening injuries, but thanks to the combined efforts of Navy doctors onboard the USNS Comfort hospital ship and Air Force medical teams on land, thousands of lives have been saved. Once children arrive at the pediatric ward in Port-au-Prince, the coloring and activity books allow nurses and interpreters to interact with children over fun activities instead of focusing on injuries. Stuffed animals and toys are gifts for the children -- many of whom have lost their homes and family members.

"The compassion of the Charleston community has reached all the way to Haiti," added Colonel Strickland. "I know the children our Airmen treat appreciate every one of these small acts of kindness."

"So far, our team has seen more than 500 patients at the EMEDS facility," said Col. John Mansfield, the 24th EMEDS commander. "Donations like the ones we received from Charleston are an important part of a patient's recovery -- the healing power of a smile and positive attitude is immeasurable."

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