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Airmen visit Colombian orphanage during RIO NEGRO air show

  • Published
  • By Capt. Nathan D. Broshear
  • Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Public Affairs
Airmen from Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern), the 33rd Fighter Wing and 305th Air Mobility Wing, visited the ALDEAS SOS orphanage outside Medellín, Colombia Thursday (26 June); leaving the flight line of the RIO NEGRO air and trade show to meet members of the local community and learn about the plight of children in partner nations.

ALDEAS SOS, an international non-profit organization devoted to caring for orphaned and abandoned children, welcomed the group of more than 25 Airmen for a lunchtime visit inside the 13 dedicated casitas (or 'little homes' in English). Each building within the compound is home to 10 children and two female caregivers, called "tia" ( or "aunt" in English) by their charges. The group homes are built and maintain with the help of donations and volunteer workers -- often Air Forces Southern Airmen.

After delivering gifts and mementos to the eager children, pairs of Airmen joined caregivers and children in their casista for a group meal and exchange. Over lunch, children were able to have individualized attention and ask questions directly to Airmen. Some questions focused on life in the Air Force, others on personal details such as eye color or what various patches symbolized.

The orphans and abandoned children at the ALDEAS SOS facility come from across the various Colombian provinces, many displaced due to years of war with rebels in rural areas of the country, explained the organization's director.

For members of the Air Force, the brief visit was an enlightening look into the lives of caregivers and the children they nurture.

"'Tias' are more than simply a live-in caregivers, these women have unconditional love for each of the children they live with," said Senior Master Sgt. Liz Reddish, a fuels superintendant from Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. "Even the older children take care of the younger ones... taking their role as siblings seriously...despite being from different backgrounds, these children are a family."

The visit moved Airmen to such an extent, they collectively decided to invite the organization to visit the air show venue the following day for an exclusive tour of the KC-10 Extender, followed by front row seats for the F-15 West Coast Demonstration Team's performance.

"The only time these energetic kids sat still was during the F-15 demonstration," joked Sergeant Reddish. "They were completely mesmerized by the aircraft -- afterwards it was hard to say goodbye as every one of the children kissed and hugged Airmen for more than 20 minutes."

For Airmen and their new Colombian friends, the two-day adventure was concluded with a tearful embrace and a well-known expression...."Gracias."