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SALITRE participants share Airmen spirit of service with local orphanage, hospital children

A child proudly displays his 612th Air Operations Center patch as Lt Col Pete Schneider, 159 Fighter Wing Maintenance Group commander, pushes him on a swing at the Aldeas SOS orphanage in Antofagasta, Chile.  The colonel was part of a more than 40 person team of US, Chilean and Argentine Air Force members who visited the charitable organization for orphaned and abandoned children on Sunday.  Airmen took time off from exercise SALITRE, a five-nation exercise aimed at improving coaltion interoperability during peacekeeping operations to reach out to area children with an afternoon of fun and games. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Daniel Farrell)

ANTOFAGASTA, Chile -- A child proudly displays his 612th Air Operations Center patch as Lt. Col. Pete Schneider, 159 Fighter Wing Maintenance Group commander, pushes him on a swing at the Aldeas SOS orphanage. The colonel was part of a more-than-40-person team of U.S., Chilean and Argentine Air Force members who visited the charitable organization for orphaned and abandoned children Oct. 25. Airmen took time off from exercise SALITRE, a five-nation exercise aimed at improving coalition interoperability during peacekeeping operations to reach out to area children with an afternoon of fun and games. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Daniel Farrell)

Lt Col Michael Finney, the 612th Air Operations Center Deputy Director of Combat Operations, pauses for a a photograph as he pushes a young Chilean girl on a swing at the Aldeas SOS orphanage.  The home, located in Antofagasta, Chile hosted more than 40 Airmen from 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern), the 159th Fighter Wing, and members of the Chilean and Argentine Air Forces, for an afternoon of fun and festivies.  Airmen distributed candy and donated items to the home for orphaned and abandoned children on Sunday as they took a break from exercise SALITRE to reach out to members of the local community during the combined visit.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Daniel Farrell)

ANTOFAGASTA, Chile -- Lt. Col. Michael Finney, the 612th Air Operations Center deputy director of combat operations, pauses for a a photograph as he pushes a young Chilean girl on a swing at the Aldeas SOS orphanage Oct. 25. The home, located in Antofagasta, Chile hosted more than 40 Airmen from 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern), the 159th Fighter Wing, and members of the Chilean and Argentine Air Forces, for an afternoon of fun and festivities. Airmen gave candy and donated items to the home for orphaned and abandoned children as they took a break from exercise SALITRE to reach out to members of the local community. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Daniel Farrell)

Maj. Jana Nyerges, a member of Air Forces Southern participating in exercise SALITRE, teaches English words to children at the Aldeas SOS orphanage during a visit to the center on Sunday.  More than 40 Airmen from the US Air Force, as well as, members of the Chilean and Argentine Air Forces, visited the home for orphaned and abandoned children in Antofagasta, Chile to donate items to the organization and provide an afternoon of fun and games to residents. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Daniel Farrell)

ANTOFAGASTA, Chile -- Maj. Jana Nyerges, a member of Air Forces Southern participating in exercise SALITRE, teaches English words to children at the Aldeas SOS orphanage during a visit to the center Oct. 25. More than 40 Airmen from the U.S. Air Force, as well as members of the Chilean and Argentine air forces, visited the home for orphaned and abandoned children to donate items and provide an afternoon of fun and games to residents. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Daniel Farrell)

Capt Nicole Golden, 355th Fighter Wing Chief of Intel Operations, gives a piggyback ride to a child at the Aldeas SOS orphanage in Antofagasta, Chile on Sunday.  Capt Golden was one of more than 40 Airmen from the US, Chilean and Argentine Air Forces who visited the home while taking time off from exercise SALITRE, a five-nation exercise focused on peacekeeping operations.   (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Daniel Farrell)

ANTOFAGASTA, Chile -- Capt. Nicole Golden, 355th Fighter Wing chief of intel operations, gives a piggyback ride to a child at the Aldeas SOS orphanage Oct. 25. Capt Golden was one of more than 40 Airmen from the U.S., Chilean and Argentine Air Forces who visited the home while taking time off from exercise SALITRE, a five-nation exercise focused on peacekeeping operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Daniel Farrell)

Master Sgt. David Quintero, an aircraft armament systems craftsman, with the 159th Fighter Wing, Louisiana Air National Guard, shakes the hand of child at the Aldeas SOS orphanage in Antofagasta, Chile.  Sergeant Quintero celebrated his own birthday at the center along with more than 40 Airmen from the US, Chilean and Argentine Air Forces who visited the home while taking time off from exercise SALITRE, a five-nation exercise focused on peacekeeping operations.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Daniel Farrell)

ANTOFAGASTA, Chile -- Master Sgt. David Quintero, an aircraft armament systems craftsman with the 159th Fighter Wing, Louisiana Air National Guard, shakes the hand of child at the Aldeas SOS orphanage Oct. 25. Sergeant Quintero celebrated his birthday at the center along with more than 40 Airmen from the U.S., Chilean and Argentine Air Forces who visited the home while taking time off from exercise SALITRE, a five-nation exercise focused on peacekeeping operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Daniel Farrell)

Col. Roy Qualls, 159th Fighter Wing commander, demonstrates a card trick for children at the Aldeas SOS orphanage in Antofagasta, Chile.  More than 40 Airmen from the Louisiana Air National Guard, 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) and the Chilean and Argentine Air Forces visited the organization for an afternoon of games and fun with the children.   (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Daniel Farrell)

ANTOFAGASTA, Chile -- Col. Roy Qualls, 159th Fighter Wing commander, demonstrates a card trick for children at the Aldeas SOS orphanage Oct. 25. More than 40 Airmen from the Louisiana Air National Guard, 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) and the Chilean and Argentine air forces visited the organization for an afternoon of games and fun with the children. (U.S. Air Force photo /Master Sgt. Daniel Farrell)

Col. Roy Qualls, the 159th Fighter Wing commander, plays ping-pong with a child at the Aldeas SOS orphanage in Antofagasta, Chile.  The Colonel and his team accompanied members of the Chilean Air Force, Argentine Air Force and 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) to the home for orphaned and abandoned children during exercise SALITRE.  More than 40 Airmen visited, played and distributed donated items to the 120 children who are residents at the organization´s compound.

ANTOFAGASTA, Chile -- Col. Roy Qualls, the 159th Fighter Wing commander, plays ping-pong with a child at the Aldeas SOS orphanage Oct. 25. The colonel and his team accompanied members of the Chilean air force, Argentine air force and 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) to the home for orphaned and abandoned children during exercise SALITRE. More than 40 Airmen visited, played and distributed donated items to the 120 children at the organization´s compound. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Daniel Farrell)

Members of the 71st Rescue Squadron play soccer with children at the Aldeas SOS orphanage in Antofagasta, Chile on Sunday.  The aircrew was part of a more than 40 person team of US, Chilean and Argentine Air Force members who visited the home for orphaned and abandoned children while taking time off from exercise SALITRE, a five-nation event focused on coalition interoperability during peacekeeping operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Daniel Farrell)

ANTOFAGASTA, Chile -- Members of the 71st Rescue Squadron play soccer with children at the Aldeas SOS orphanage Oct. 25. The aircrew was part of a more-than-40-person team of U.S., Chilean and Argentine Air Force members who visited the home for orphaned and abandoned children while taking time off from exercise SALITRE, a five-nation event focused on coalition interoperability during peacekeeping operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Daniel Farrell)

Col Roy Qualls, 159th Fighter Wing commander, and Master Sgt. David Quintero, an aircraft armament systems craftsman with the Louisiana Air National Guard pose with their new friends at the Aldeas SOS orphanage in Antofagasta, Chile.  The Airmen were part of a more than 40 person team of US, Chilean and Argentine Air Force members who visited the home for orphaned and abandoned children while taking time off from exercise SALITRE, a five-nation event focused on coalition interoperability during peacekeeping operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Daniel Farrell)

ANTOFAGASTA, Chile -- Col. Roy Qualls, 159th Fighter Wing commander, and Master Sgt. David Quintero, an aircraft armament systems craftsman with the Louisiana Air National Guard, pose with their new friends at the Aldeas SOS orphanage Oct. 25. The Airmen were part of a more-than-40-person team of U.S., Chilean and Argentine Air Force members who visited the home for orphaned and abandoned children while taking time off from exercise SALITRE, a five-nation event focused on coalition interoperability during peacekeeping operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Daniel Farrell)

Airmen pose with children at the Aldeas SOS orphanage after visiting the home in Antofagasta, Chile for several hours on Sunday.  The Airmen were part of a more than 40 person team of US, Chilean and Argentine Air Force members who visited the home for orphaned and abandoned children while taking time off from exercise SALITRE, a five-nation event focused on coalition interoperability during peacekeeping operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Daniel Farrell)
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ANTOFAGASTA, Chile -- Airmen pose with children at the Aldeas SOS orphanage after visiting the home Oct. 25. The Airmen were part of a more-than-40-person team of U.S., Chilean and Argentine Air Force members who visited the home for orphaned and abandoned children while taking time off from exercise SALITRE, a five-nation event focused on coalition interoperability during peacekeeping operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Daniel Farrell)

ANTOFAGASTA, Chile -- A little girl came running down the hospital hall with her arms wide open toward a group of uniformed officers towering above her.

"I didn't get a patch," she cried in Spanish pointing toward the 612th Air Operations Center squadron insignia on the Airmen's flight suits.

All of the officers knelt down, the one closest to the young girl extending his arms and handing her a patch from his shoulder. The group of visitors smiled as he affixed the patch to her purple shirt.

Only a few seconds passed, as she contemplated the token she'd been gifted, when unexpectedly, she pulled the patch off and handed it back to the officer, leaping into his arms.
"I don't want the patch anymore," she whimpered. "Just don't leave."

This is how a day full of heartwarming encounters began for 40 Airmen from the U.S., Argentine and Chilean Air Forces who took a break from exercise SALITRE Oct. 25, to reach out to members of the local community during a combined visit to 50 children at Antofagasta Regional Hospital and more than 120 children at Aldeas SOS orphanage here.

The community outreach events exceeded the expectations of the participants, including those of Argentinean Air Force public affairs officer, Lt. Col. Fernando Rubio.

"We came here expecting to bring smiles and happiness to these kids, but we are the ones leaving with the greater gift," Colonel Rubio said. "Here, there are no nationalities. We all share the same spirit -- a spirit of service that lives in our common Air Force culture, no matter what country you call home."

Airmen from 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) and the 159th Fighter Wing were moved to tears during their visit to the hospital, sharing stories about aviation, handing out patches, and giving hope to terminally ill children, many of whom have been confined to the hospital for more than a month.

For one Airman who turned 36 years old on the community outreach day, the experience was the best birthday gift he could think of receiving, he said.

The 120 children at Aldeas SOS orphanage gathered to sing "Happy Birthday" to Master Sgt. David Quintero, an aircraft armament systems craftsman from the 159th Fighter Wing.

"Just seeing their smiles is heartwarming, and truly the best birthday gift," Sergeant Quintero said. "To be here means a lot -- you're not just handing out candy and playing games with them, you're impacting their lives for the better."

The orphanage, a refuge for children removed from domestic violence situations, is more than just a semi-circle of brightly colored houses. It is a village of hope that gives children a place to call home, said Yanina Palacios.

Ms. Palacios, 23, has lived at the orphanage since she was only 1 year old, and is about to graduate college with a degree in finance, she said. She is giving back to the orphanage by helping care for the children every day after class.

"This is my home and these children are my brothers and sisters," she said. "To all of us, it means so much to have participants from the exercise visit our home."

The orphanage director, Nestor Rojas, said the Airmen boosted the children's self-esteem and are positive role models for the children to look up to.

"For the kids, this visit is like a dream," he said. "The pilots they have seen on TV and who they have watched fly overhead are here to play with them in their home. It is unreal to them."

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