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FOL sports day leaves Ecuadorian students with more than medals

Maj. Chris Shea (far left), 478th Expeditionary Operations Squadron assistant director of operations, defends a soccer goal during a sports day here with students from Manta, Ecuador's Angelica Flores special needs school April 25. FOL Manta hosted the all-day event to teach 40 students American sports and build their teamwork and confidence. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Beth Woodward)

Maj. Chris Shea (far left), 478th Expeditionary Operations Squadron assistant director of operations, defends a soccer goal during a sports day here with students from Manta, Ecuador's Angelica Flores special needs school April 25. FOL Manta hosted the all-day event to teach 40 students American sports and build their teamwork and confidence. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Beth Woodward)

Airman 1st Class Cory Bay (right), 478th Expeditionary Operations Squadron security forces apprentice, teaches volleyball during a sports day here with students from Manta, Ecuador's Angelica Flores special needs school April 25. FOL Manta hosted the all-day event to teach 40 students American sports and build their teamwork and confidence. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Beth Woodward)

Airman 1st Class Cory Bay (right), 478th Expeditionary Operations Squadron security forces apprentice, teaches volleyball during a sports day here with students from Manta, Ecuador's Angelica Flores special needs school April 25. FOL Manta hosted the all-day event to teach 40 students American sports and build their teamwork and confidence. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Beth Woodward)

Master Sgt. Ben Miranda, 478th Expeditionary Operations Squadron chief of security forces and acting first sergeant, meets students from the Angelica Flores school at FOL Manta April 25. Volunteers from the FOL invited over 40 students to a sports day to learn American sports and build teamwork. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st. Lt Beth Woodward)

Master Sgt. Ben Miranda, 478th Expeditionary Operations Squadron chief of security forces and acting first sergeant, meets students from the Angelica Flores school at FOL Manta April 25. Volunteers from the FOL invited over 40 students to a sports day to learn American sports and build teamwork. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st. Lt Beth Woodward)

Maj. Brian Shumway, 478th Expeditionary Operations Squadron director of operations, teaches the basics of soccer to students from the Angelica Flores school at FOL Manta April 25. Volunteers from the FOL invited over 40 students to a sports day to learn American sports and build teamwork. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st. Lt Beth Woodward)

Maj. Brian Shumway, 478th Expeditionary Operations Squadron director of operations, teaches the basics of soccer to students from the Angelica Flores school at FOL Manta April 25. Volunteers from the FOL invited over 40 students to a sports day to learn American sports and build teamwork. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st. Lt Beth Woodward)

FORWARD OPERATING LOCATION MANTA, Ecuador -- Over 40 children from the Angelica Flores special needs school in Manta, Ecuador, ran, jumped and kicked their way to victory here April 25 during a sports day hosted by Forward Operating Location (FOL) Manta volunteers.

While the FOL's mission is supporting counternarcotics operations in the eastern Pacific, Airmen also volunteer with organizations, like Angelica Flores, to improve the quality-of-life of local Ecuadorians.

"The FOL has a great community relations program," said Master Sgt. Mark Miller, 478th Expeditionary Operations Squadron intelligence analyst, who organized the sports day. "We hoped to give these kids a fun break from their routine and teach them about American sports."

About 20 instructors and translators from the FOL's 478th EOS worked alongside Angelica Flores teachers to rotate children through stations to learn basketball, volleyball, soccer, washers and Frisbee here.

"Today gives them a chance to learn discipline, teamwork and respect for rules," said Ms. Monica Garcia, psychologist and vice principal at the school.

Typically, Angelica Flores' students participate in recreation activities during the school week, so an all-day, sports-focused event was a welcome change for both gym teachers and parents, according to Ms. Garcia.

Following a lunch in the squadron dining facility, the day's events concluded with relay races and award presentations to each participant.

"Although we're diminishing our material support to the Angelica Flores Institute, we wanted to continue our great relationship with the school. A sports day was the perfect venue to do just that," said Lt. Col. Pat Curtis, 478th EOS commander, who taught basketball and presented awards at the event.

Each month, volunteers from FOL Manta travel to the school to help teach and play with the kids. In fall 2008, the FOL secured $5,000 in U.S. Southern Command funding to resurface the school's courtyard to clear several safety hazards.

"From the beginning, the FOL has helped us a lot with education, recreation and infrastructure," said Ms. Garcia. "But the biggest impact is not the materials [volunteers] bring, but the human quality--the time spent."

At the close of the day, students clung to medals and certificates with grins spread across their faces and exchanged high-fives with FOL Airmen.

"I saw smiles on all the kids' faces," said Master Sgt. Miller. "That was our goal."

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