A wing holiday story

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Karyn Wright
  • 319th Mission Support Group deputy commander
I have attended many wing, group and squadron holiday parties through the years, and they have ranged from simple pot lucks to $60 per head holiday extravaganzas. This year, our wing's holiday party, hosted by Col. John Michel and his wife, Holly, Mayor Michael Brown from Grand Forks, University of North Dakota's president, Dr. Robert Kelley, and our base ambassadors was probably one of the most special. It was unique because it was completely free to everyone who attended. In addition to a free adult holiday party at the club, did you know that the tween and teen party at Sven's Den and the children's party at the Community Activity Center were also completely free? To me, what makes this story worthy of print is the untold story of how this wonderful evening enjoyed by so many actually came together. So, as Paul Harvey would say, "Now for the rest of the story."

About six weeks ago, I was invited to a lunch at the club. Well, I soon learned that this was not your ordinary working lunch. To share my table was Colonel and Mrs. Michel, along with Ann who runs catering at the club. The topic for this working lunch was the annual wing commander's holiday open house. Many may not be aware of the standing tradition in our Air Force of a wing commander's open house each holiday season, which is attended by invitation only. Invitations normally go to group and squadron commanders, chiefs, sometimes first sergeants and the leaders of the local community. The open house is held in the wing commander's home and is normally a catered affair, so that was where I though this conversation was headed. However, in normal Colonel Michel fashion, I soon realized this was not going to be the normal wing commander's open house, but would be something much bigger. Almost immediately the colonel mentioned he wanted the event held at the club instead of his home and then the shocker hit when he said he wanted it open for the entire wing to attend. The shock for me wasn't the break from tradition, but the logistical pieces to pull off such an event. Colonel and Mrs. Michel wanted an event that was inclusive for all, to include our base's children.

Leaving the lunch I must admit, I didn't have thoughts of candy canes filling my head, but thoughts of taskers to get the job done and the need for a surgical strike force of volunteers to help pull it together. So, the planning began. You see, most wing holiday parties start their planning as early as February to raise funds, set location, do all the small behind the scenes things necessary to make a wing event successful. We had less than six weeks to pull off not just one party, but three.

This story is really about the team that knitted so many details together to makes these parties so enjoyable. As most of our events happen, we had a meeting; since the club was already working the adult party, we focused on the children's party. Lucky for me, the 319th Force Support Squadron is filled with talent beyond my wildest dreams, and I got to meet a good portion of it seated around my table. Before I knew it, we had volunteers from the Airmen & Family Readiness Center, youth center, in-home family child care and the chapel lending not only their good ideas, but delivering goods, time and talent. It was quickly decided we needed two children's parties; one for the younger children and the other for older tweens and teens.

As the sun set on the evening of the Dec. 16, children started arriving. The chapel strapped on the tween/teen party and hosted it in their new "Sven's Den" while the CAC hosted a Polar Express Extravaganza that sported crafts, pizza, popcorn and fresh baked cookies. Mrs. Claus was on hand to pass out goodie bags filled with donated toys from Burger KingĀ® that the children had decorated. The Base Exchange and commissary came to the rescue with donations of fruit and candy. Pat Fields, manager of the BX, volunteered not only her resources, but her time to help watch the children on what was already a very busy night for the BX. She even had two $20 gift cards to give away at the children's and tween/teen parties.

As the kids got settled, adults and babes-in-arms age three and younger began to fill the parking lot at the Northern Lights Club. A beautiful punch fountain was one of the center pieces and delicious hors d'oeuvres filled the room as a spry green elf and his wife made the rounds to the revelers. Mayor Brown, Dr. Kelley, our ambassadors and honorary commanders came together to create and donate 300 unique holiday ornaments to celebrate the event and show their appreciation for what we do each year. As 8 p.m. approached, many folks moved on to the BX to enjoy great shopping deals and to await the selection of the winning entry for the 46" TV donated to our BX. Shortly after 8, in a packed exchange, Kathy Chegwidden was selected as the winner of the grand prize. Her husband had recently returned from a 179-day deployment, and he had come home to a brand new baby born while he was deployed. They couldn't be happier with their early Christmas present!

In an effort to make this evening a complete holiday experience for everyone in our wing, it took a small army of dedicated and talented people pulling together. The FSS deserves special mention for their contribution, including some of your morale, welfare and recreation funds earned through the profits from the facilities you use every day. Truly, the Airmen's dollars came right back to them! Additionally, most of the volunteers for the children's party were FSS' civilian employees. Special thanks also goes out to 1st Lts. Trey Johnson and Christina Gustafson and the FSS marketing department for their "Triple Dog Dare You" and "Polar Express Extravaganza" advertisement campaigns. Finally, the chaplains and the single's group Bible study who manned Sven's Den were also super troopers. Many thanks are due to all who had a hand in making the evening of Dec. 16 truly a Wing Holiday Story. More than 400 of our Wingmates and 100 plus children, tweens and teens spent their evening with us in one of the finest holiday festivals I have ever witnessed. Happy holidays to all! And to all a good year!!!