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Santa Claus comes to town

Master Sgt. Jayme Laurent-Small helps her daughter, Jordyn, put together a marshmallow snowman at a craft table during the 126th Air Refueling Wing's Kid's Christmas Party. The Illinois Air National Guard unit, located at Scott AFB, Ill., hosted the party for Wing members and their children. The special famiiy time included crafts, games, bouncy houses and a visit from Santa Claus and his elves who arrived on a KC-135R Stratotanker. (National Guard photo by Airman First Class Elise Stout)

Master Sgt. Jayme Laurent-Small helps her daughter, Jordyn, put together a marshmallow snowman at a craft table during the 126th Air Refueling Wing's Kid's Christmas Party. The Illinois Air National Guard unit, located at Scott AFB, Ill., hosted the party for Wing members and their children. The special famiiy time included crafts, games, bouncy houses and a visit from Santa Claus and his elves who arrived on a KC-135R Stratotanker. (National Guard photo by Airman First Class Elise Stout)

Members of the 126th Air Refueling Wing await the arrival of Santa Claus and his elves in a maintenance hangar during a Kid's Holiday Party. The Illinois Air National Guard unit, located at Scott AFB, Ill., hosted the party for Wing members and their children. The special famiiy time included crafts, games, bouncy houses and a visit from Santa Claus and his elves who arrived on a KC-135R Stratotanker. (National Guard photo by Airman First Class Elise Stout)

Members of the 126th Air Refueling Wing await the arrival of Santa Claus and his elves in a maintenance hangar during a Kid's Holiday Party. The Illinois Air National Guard unit, located at Scott AFB, Ill., hosted the party for Wing members and their children. The special famiiy time included crafts, games, bouncy houses and a visit from Santa Claus and his elves who arrived on a KC-135R Stratotanker. (National Guard photo by Airman First Class Elise Stout)

Scott AFB, Ill. -- Very rarely does Santa step off of an Air Force KC-135R Stratotanker before talking with kids and posing for pictures for the holiday season. But, that is exactly what happened during the 126th Air Refueling Wing's December UTA weekend.

As the jolly man in the red suit and his helpers strutted through the Wing hangar past the two bounce houses, several game stations, face-painting booths and craft areas, children lined up to tell him what they wanted this Christmas season.

On Dec. 1, 166 kids and hundreds of guard members and spouses participated in the children's holiday party in the Wing's hangar.

The event was organized by the 126th Family Readiness and Support office.

"The one thing about the guard is that we are so dispersed," said Travis Barker, Airman and Family Readiness program manager. "The unit members see each other at least once a month. They deploy together, and they work together. But, the families don't see each other. They are part of a bigger mission. So, it's good that folks are able to get together right before the holidays."

The event brought together families from many different parts of the unit. Staff Sgt. Richard Spain, a computer operations specialist in the 126th Supply Chain Management Squadron, brought his son Jack who asked Santa for a "Bucky the Pirate Ship."

Spain admitted that he does not have much time to meet or visit other unit members outside his squadron during regular UTAs since his squadron is on the active duty side of the base. He appreciates moments like this where he can see how his son reacts with the crafts or the bounce house.

Tech. Sgt. Nathan Moore, a boom operator with the 108th Air Refueling Squadron, continued the tradition of bringing his family.

"We do this every year," said Moore. "It's nice that we can get together with other members of the squadron, and see Santa. And, he comes in on a tanker, so that is pretty cool."

His three children got their picture taken with Santa. Two-year-old, blue-eyed Anna asked for a baby doll and was sure she would get it since she and her brother and sister were on the "Nice List" this year.

Roughly 80 families volunteered throughout two months of planning to put ear-to-ear smiles on Anna's, Jack's and 164 others' faces, said Barker.

In addition to the time donated, others gave gifts for the children. Operation Homefront donated several toys, movies and door prizes. Drinks were provided by Children's Home and Aid, of Granite City.

While unit members see family volunteers and gifts donated by supporting organizations, members are easily reminded that their families and other outside groups are just as much a part of the mission.

"Every time I do this, I'm encouraged by people's willingness to do whatever it is to make it a success," said Barker. "No person can do this by himself. From the commanders and supervisors who let their folks go, to the people that raise their hand and say 'I want to help,' the support has gotten stronger every time we host an event. I can't do it without them."

Well, tis' the season for giving.
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