Student squadron serves local community

LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --

Nearly 300 student pilots swooped down on 15 Val Verde county non-profits  and gave them a quick facelift Saturday morning as the 47th Student Squadron had its first ever “Serve Day.”

“It’s important that our young officers learn that a lot of officership is about serving,” said Lt. Col. Cory Christoffer, 47th Student Squadron commander. “This event was beneficial to the student squadron on many levels, from building unit cohesion among the classes, we got to serve Del Rio who continually does so much for Laughlin and in the end, it seems like everybody had fun!”

Classes met at the squadron at about 7 a.m., received assignments from Capt. Matt Pierce, the event organizer, and fanned out across the county to 15 different locations. One class, 18-05, went nearly 48 miles to Seminole Canyon State Park where they helped clean trails and spruce up one of the premier state parks.

Others didn’t go quite so far as they painted the main gallery of the Del Rio Council for the Arts, visited residents of a nursing home and painted part of the facility, cleaned parks and a historic cemetery; cooked breakfast for Laughlin maintainers, cleaned kennels at a pet rescue, helped pack food at a food bank and helped a retired general and his wife around their home.

“There are many non-profits and government programs that have very tight budgets and these lieutenants coming helping out helped the agencies do more good and carry out their missions much better,” said Joe Frank Martinez, Val Verde County sheriff, as he mowed alongside members of class 18-01 at St. Joseph’s cemetery.

“The Firehouse (gallery where the Del Rio Council for the Arts is located) is often in need of a facelift and having these men and women take time out of their busy schedules to help with a project that isn’t affordable means the world to us and the community,” said Nicole Helmer, DRCA Outreach director.

Although the community benefitted from the free labor force, it seemed that Laughlin members got more out of it than the recipients. “It’s always fun to get out and help the community,” said 2nd Lt. Joe Branneen, 47th Student Squadron member who was walking Buster, a rescued dog at A Pet’s Wish, a local animal rescue.

For one class, it went much deeper. Class 17-11 went to Maj. Gen. (ret.) Gerald Prather’s home and helped with some projects and his wife had been unable to get to due to health challenges.

After spending several hours around the home, the class sat down with the 81-year-old general who gave them a glimpse into history. “We sat down with him for about 30 minutes and he shared words of wisdom about officership and flying,” said Capt. Jessica Foster, 17-11 class commander. “He told them to chase their dreams even if they didn’t think their dream was possible. He told them he never thought he’d make it through pilot training, much less have the career he had. It was very powerful words for our future pilots.”

While the class felt like they were the beneficiaries, Helen Prather said the help was priceless. “We couldn’t have done in two months what they did in two hours,” Helen said. “And we both loved having all that young energy around.”

Although there was plenty of hard work involved, one class managed to squeeze in some April Fool’s day fun when the pranked their commander and called and told him a class member was unconscious after  being bit by a rattle snake.

“I told them hurry up and I’d meet them at the Emergency Room,” Christoffer said. “Then I heard them laughing and they said, ‘Happy April’s Fools Day!’”

The only nearly downside to the day was Capt. Pierce had spent Thursday and Friday nights grilling 80 pounds of pork shoulder, thinking there’d be plenty left over. Work crews built up quite an appetite and it barely survived the first round of plates.