Always there, Always ready.
By Senior Airman Brook Payette, Always there, Always ready
/ Published June 11, 2013
Durham, N.H. -- The Air National Guard's motto rang true during the Special Olympics of New Hampshire's 44th Annual State Summer games held at the University of New Hampshire on May 31 and June 1.
Despite the challenges of the blistering heat, extended competition and new volunteer coordinator within the ranks, the latest edition of the games went off without a hitch according to long-time Special Olympics of New Hampshire volunteer Timothy Acerno.
"They go above and beyond and that is what makes this event so successful," said Acerno of all the uniformed volunteers, including 20 members of the 157 Air Refueling Wing and 64th Air Refueling Squadron. "They just want to know what we need and how we can get it done. The volunteers are all about the athletes and getting it done for them. They are fantastic to work with"
For the first time, the games moved its opening ceremony to Friday morning in order to include two full-days of competition. The opening ceremony included an appearance from the New Hampshire Honor Guard.
"Having the honor guard there for the opening ceremonies is great," said Acerno, former assistant to the chief of law enforcement with N.H. Fish and Game. "You get everything nice, crisp and smooth. I can't say enough about what the guard does for the Special Olympics."
Volunteers from the 157th and 64th Air Refueling Squadron also presented medals to the athletes following events. Nearly 1,000 athletes from all over the state competed in 57 track and field events, 31 aquatic events, equestrian and bocce over the two days.
"The joy in their eyes and the look of their faces when we give them their medals (is great)," said Technical Sgt. Jessica Davidson, who served as the volunteer coordinator for the 157th." They are so proud and so thankful that we are there to support them."
Davidson and Master Sgt. Samantha Buder of the 64th Air Refueling Squadron coordinated with Acerno to ensure uniformed military members took part in presenting hundreds of medals to athletes over a two-day period. Davidson said the volunteer experience is a way to remind the community the New Hampshire Air National Guard's commitment to community service.
"We are there not only in times of crisis or national disaster, but to support the community any way we can," said Davidson. "We live in the community, we work in the community, we go to school in the community and we have our families in the community. We want to show them that we are approachable and to embrace that guard family concept."
It was the first year Davidson served as the point of contact for the 157, taking over the reins from retired Senior Master Sgt. Norma Long. Long began volunteering with the Special Olympics in 1998 as a "hugger." After that first year, she knew she wanted to become more involved and has been a volunteer at the event every year since.
"It is a really good feeling to come out here and give back," said Long. "Doing this over the years has been nice. I have seen the Olympians grow. They recognize me every year I come and their parents love us to be out here."
Though Long gave up here official duties as the coordinator at the 157th, she plans to continue her volunteer efforts each summer. It is a decision that does not surprise Acerno.
"Once you get (volunteers) to come once, they are hooked," said Acerno. "They can see the impact they have on the athletes and how much the athletes respect them. The admiration for the athletes keeps people coming back. I think that is why Norma (and others) keep coming back."