Operation Take-Flight is a make-believe deployment exercise for children of military families who will go to a place called “Shawkikistan”. The event takes place Wednesday, August 24, 5 to 7 p.m. at Shaw AFB in Sumter.
Children who have parents stationed at Shaw Air Force Base and the Third Army have the opportunity to experience what it’s like for Mom or Dad to process for deployment.
Master Sgt. Brian Melton, Shaw Airman and Family Readiness Center, says it helps military children relate to a parent’s deployment. Melton says, “All of the children, Air Force and Army that is assigned to Shaw AFB here, and it is an educational pre-deployment initiative, so, it’s open to everybody, not just those that are already deployed. We would rather actually target those that have yet to go.”
The children have a chance to do many of the same things, even eating “Meals, Ready-to-Eat.” Some dress in kid-size uniforms or even their parent’s uniforms. “We’ll bring the kids in, they will check in at the Deployment Processing Center,” says Melton. “We will take them through each station, they’ll have a chance to try on all the various pieces combat gear, like our Kevlar helmets, our Flak vests and canteens and web belts, all that stuff. Our chemical gear ensemble which includes our gas masks, all that stuff will be out for them to look at and try on. And then we’ll go through each station down the processing line.”
Sgt. Melton says it’s a huge undertaking for Shaw Air Force Base and the event takes about 70 volunteers to pull this off. “It is just a huge event,” he says,”and I tell you, once the kids go through it and you see their faces at the homecoming, when they get back from the deployed location, and then you hear them talk about it for days afterwards, every time you see them, that’s all they can think about and talk about.”
Melton says their goal is to try to create an event that helps the children better understand Mom or Dad who may come home one day and say they have to deploy. Melton says it just eliminates that particular stressor. “It’s really satisfying,” he adds. “It’s a wonderful event, and yes, I look forward to it.”
The event concludes with the children returning to a roaring patriotic homecoming where volunteers will be waiting to welcome them home, waving banners and flags.