KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
Keesler’s relationship with Special Olympics Mississippi was started by Col. Hank Boardman, former 81st Training Wing commander, then known as the 3300th Technical Training Wing. Hosting the Special Olympics was established as a community outreach program and was designed to join junior officers with NCOs to teach them how to organize logistical and operational requirements for a project.
When I became involved with SOMS in 1983, Keesler was hosting the regional games, which are a qualifying event for the state games. The program worked so well that when the state director for SOMS came to observe the regional games, he approached base authorities about hosting the summer games.
In June of 1986, we hosted our first State Summer Games, which was a huge success. Starting that year, each athlete was sponsored by two student Airmen who took on the responsibility to ensure their athlete was properly fed, rested, got to their event on time and helped coordinate with the athlete’s medical team so the medical staff could administer medication as needed. The athletes also started staying on base, in the dorms with their sponsor Airmen throughout the whole weekend.
There were plenty of other logistical responsibilities going on in the background. The Keesler SOMS committee managed all of the volunteers for the numerous functions required to organize the event.
To me, Special Olympics affects your heart and soul. When you see those big smiles on the athletes’ faces and they show you their medal, you’re hooked. Most members of the committee come back year after year and it’s all about the athletes.
There are hidden benefits to this program that go far beyond good community relations. There is a noticeable difference in the maturity level of the student Airmen after the games.
Many of them haven’t been exposed to a special needs person. However, they take on their responsibility with honor and determination. Here, they truly live the U.S. Air Force core value of service before self.
The program is also a seed program for Special Olympics throughout the world. When the troops who got involved get to their next assignment, they ask, “When is Special Olympics and how can I get involved.”
Ode to the Special Olympian
Are they really special,
Well, they are to me,
But what is so special about them,
What is it that I see,
They’re not blessed with the attributes
That we have known all along,
So why then are they special,
Or could it be I’m wrong.
When God looks down upon us
And measures one and all
He sees just our spirit
And next to them I feel small.