Airmen in Bulgaria Open Gates, Hearts for Orphans

Views on BG | April 4, 2003, Friday // 00:00| Views: | Comments: 0

By Capt. David Kurle

409th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs

All Belio Boykov Rainov knew about Americans was what he had seen on television and films. But the airmen here were not "the good guys and bad guys from the movies," he said.

Rainov was one of more than 40-orphaned children who visited here April 2, when the 409th Air Expeditionary Group opened their aircraft, gates and hearts to children from two orphanages in Burgas, Bulgaria.

"You are good people," said the 13-year-old Rainov, who lives at a state-run orphanage along with 135 other children. "When I came here, people were ready to help and answer our questions.

"The Americans (at Camp Sarafovo), they were helpful and loving," Rainov said.

The children, with some of their teachers, visited the camp and were treated to tours of a KC-10A Extender and a HUMVEE, as well as a demonstration by military working dogs.

"While our air re-fueling mission is our number one priority, we also have a responsibility to be good guests in our host-country," said Col. James Muscatell, 409th AEG commander. "It's nice that we can leave the impression that we, as Americans, are people that have a lot in common with Bulgarians; that we are human beings just like them.

"We found out that one of the kids has cystic fibrosis and only has about two months to live," Muscatell said. "The principal told us not to be sad because we had fulfilled his life-long dream. His whole life he had wanted to see the inside of an airplane. How do you measure the impact of that? It broke my heart."

Each of the children had a story to tell.

"These children are without families or have sick parents who cannot take care of them," said Irina Ivanova, principal at the Alexander Georgiev-Kodjakafaliyata orphanage in Burgas. "They (the children) only ever get to see the teachers at the home and it was interesting for them to have contact with different people and see the aircraft.

"The orphanage has a lot of donators, but no direct contact," Ivanova said. "The direct contact means a lot to the kids."

The first stop for the children was a tour of the Air Force's versatile KC-10A Extender. Aircrew members gave the children tours of to the flight deck, air-refueling station and on a walk-around outside the aircraft.

"I haven't seen a better airplane than this one," Rainov said. "I have traveled on a civilian airplane, but I have never seen a military airplane before."

A score of airmen volunteered as chaperones for the visit, including Senior Airman Siri Dudley, deployed from the 48th Communications Squadron at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England.

"I just like seeing smiles on the young faces," she said. "I hope it will make a difference, especially when the kids are ‘blue', they might remember this," Dudley said. "Maybe, when they grow up they will reach out to children who are less fortunate as a result of their experience here."

After touring the camp where more than 350 active-duty, Reserve and guard airmen live and work, the children performed for the airmen to demonstrate their appreciation. The show, complete with audience participation, included feats of juggling, tumbling, balancing and a fire-eating demonstration.

Visits like this are an important part of our mission here, said Staff Sgt. Andrea Luna, deployed from the 37th Mission Support Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

"It shows that we care about the community here," she said. "If we can intertwine our lives, if only for an afternoon, it helps both countries understand one another."
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