Stryker Soldiers lend support to local Boys and Girls Club
January 31, 2011
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - While many Soldiers throughout the Fort Wainwright community are packing their bags and preparing to answer the nation's call to Afghanistan in spring, a group of Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 8th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, answered a different calling Jan. 26.
About 20 Soldiers from C Battery, 2-8th teamed up with the Boys and Girls club of Tanana Valley to lend a helping hand in the organization's 2011 "military day".
"I looked back at the pictures from last year's event and I could tell the kids had a good time and it's something they look forward to, so I wanted to bring [military day] back," said Antwuan Cooks, site director for the local Boys and Girls club. "The kids get tired of coming everyday to do homework ... so it's nice to be able to give them something new."
For the Soldiers, and the more than 30 children who participated in the event, the afternoon began with a prepackaged delight known and despised by many throughout the military community as Meals Ready to Eat, or more commonly among Soldiers: MRE.
"The kids think the MREs are wonderful," Cooks said, as he explained his experience growing up in a military family and his understanding for the trepidation shared among the Soldiers towards the bland, calorie-packed meals.
After carefully devouring clear favorites like peanut butter and crackers and the rare package of shelled chocolate, the Soldiers and their pint-sized battle buddies headed into the gym to compete in obstacle courses.
The kids slid across the aged hardwood floors on burlap sacks and low crawled through a fierce set of low lying hockey sticks before reaching an enemy that has even plagued high profile super stars like Shaquille O'Neal - the dreaded free throw. The Soldiers provided assistance for the kids who found themselves vertically challenged, lifting them to the rim for a slam dunk.
Although the obstacle courses were different from the ones the Soldiers are used to, Cooks said it's the presence of the Soldiers that added to the experience. He said the Soldiers' positive attitude was an important factor in the overall success of the event.
Many of the participating Soldiers shared Cooks' enthusiasm for the event.
"I just like coming and being with the kids and volunteering," said Sgt. Nathan Thornton, a Cynthia, Ky., native, and cannon crewmember with 2-8th. "It's a chance for us to come out and show our faces and to be a positive influence for the kids and to show that we care about the community because the community is what makes us who we are."
"The community supports us as Army people so anytime we can get out and express our appreciation we plan on doing so ... and it gives us a chance to be a kid again," Thornton said as a smile crept across his otherwise stoic face.
According to Cooks, this is the second year that Thornton and the 2-8th sponsored "military day" and it's a relationship he hopes to see grow.
"[The children] go 364 days without military day so when that day comes around the kids are excited because they have something to do again," Cooks said. "It's something I hope to see become an annual event."
Despite the lack of an official annual event, the Army and the BGCA have a long history that began in the early 1990s, during the Gulf War, when the BGCA reached out to local youth centers to help the families of deployed service members.
Cooks said the long history between the organizations is something he hopes continues and that he feels it's important to both the Fort Wainwright and the Fairbanks communities.
"To have a relationship with the military is great in my book," Cooks said.