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AFSOUTH Airmen return to friends at ALDEAS SOS orphanage in Santiago -- Airmen a hit during visit, peanut butter….not so much

  • Published
  • By Capt. Nathan D. Broshear
  • Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Public Affairs
While the primary mission of Operation Southern Partner is to exchange career specific knowledge with partner nation Air Forces, members of Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) are always sure to build time into their visits to Central, South America and the Caribbean to visit with members of the local community.
"The goal is to learn from our time in Chile while also having fun with our friends at this facility," said Capt. Richard Jinks, an Army National Guardsman from Texas. Captain Jinks' primary focus during Operation Southern Partner is to exchange information with members of the Chilean military about the National Guard's State Partnership Program.
"While the work with the Chilean military has been extremely rewarding, the moments that stay with me are the times spent with members of the Santiago community," he said.
Earlier this year, during the FIDAE Air and Trade Show, AFSOUTH Airmen hosted members of the ALDEAS SOS orphanage here. The ongoing Operation Southern Partner mission presented an opportunity to reunite with the same group who had visited the flight line during the air show. Instead of touring aircraft, Airmen greeted the orphans at their "hogar" or "home." In the spirit of Operation Southern Partner, the community outreach event was an exchange -- this time a sharing of favorite lunchtime meals.
AFSOUTH Airmen brought a typical American lunch entrée: peanut butter and jelly. Before sitting down to lunch, volunteers made "PB&J" for the curious children eager to see what the "gringos" (an affectionate term for Americans) had brought for lunch.
Together, Airmen and "tias," which in Spanish means "aunt", a term used for endearment of older women or foster mothers, slathered bread with grape jelly and crunchy or creamy varieties of the peanut spread. Sandwiches were then handed out and the gracious hosts began to chew, nodding as they stared back at volunteers.
Then came the fateful statement. One of the volunteers told the children, "If you don't like the PB&J, you don't have to eat won't hurt our feelings if you tell us what you really think."
Immediately, the child spat out his mouthful and tossed the sandwich on the table, smiling as he realized he wouldn't have to endure another bite. The room erupted in laughter as the honesty of children turned the situation into a joke everyone could share.
Luckily, the waiting Chilean feast proved universally appreciated as Airmen, Captain Jinks and civilian alike asked for heaping spoonfuls of seconds. The children then explained to their downtrodden chefs that peanut butter is unusual to Chilean youngsters, but not to worry -- jelly is "muy bueno."
Other groups of volunteers met a more positive reception to their culinary selections.
"I think the reason children in the hogar I ate lunch with enjoyed their PB&J more than others was the fact that we used Nutella (a hazelnut and chocolate spread) instead of jelly," mused Dana Willis, project officer for Operation Southern Partner. Mr. Willis was joined by Master Sgt. Eric Grill, a public affairs noncommissioned officer from the Defense Media Activity-San Antonio, in Texas.
"Eric and I knew peanut butter and jelly was safe...but everyone loves chocolate -- peanut butter and Nutella is much better," joked Mr. Willis.
After lunch, participants passed out presents for the children, read copies of Airman Magazine and translated key passages, posters and graphics left as mementos. Air Force pins were the most sought after items as children insisted on immediately donning the insignia. Airmen joked with youngsters, fawning over the orphans and ensuring they were the center of attention. Each child was met with a playful, "Hola linda!" meaning "sweetheart" or "cutie" in English.
The tias and children asked for details of the interim months, fondly remembering how Airmen had promised to return...and kept their word.
After hours of photographs, games, gifts and questions, the group had to say goodbye. For Airmen, it was back to work alongside members of the Chilean Air Force in bases across the country. For children, it was a tearful end to an exciting afternoon.
One of the young orphans queried a group of Airmen on when she would see them again, "Cuándo usted volverá?" she asked.
"Soon," they replied in unison. "Soon, linda."