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Big Brothers, Sisters visit Eielson fighter squadron

Capt. Travis Burton explains the functions of an MJ-1 vehicle used to load munitions onto aircraft Sept. 30 at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The captain is a pilot with the 355th Fighter Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Amn. Christopher Griffin)

Capt. Travis Burton explains the functions of an MJ-1 vehicle used to load munitions onto aircraft Sept. 30 at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The captain is a pilot with the 355th Fighter Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Amn. Christopher Griffin)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Eighteen children from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Fairbanks, Alaska, met Airmen from the 355th Fighter Squadron and received an up close and personal look at an A-10 Thunderbolt II when they visited here Sept. 30.

"The 355th FS not only wanted to help (Big Brothers Big Sisters) in that regard, but they also wanted to honor the 'Bigs' for their dedication and time they give to these children, the community, and quite honestly, the nation," said Lt. Col. Quentin Rideout, 355th FS commander.

Once at the squadron, the Big Brothers Big Sisters crew learned about the primary mission of the 355th FS and watched a video showcasing the A-10 aircraft and its ability to provide close-air support, execute air strike control and combat search and rescue, in support of coalition forces worldwide.

"The 355th FS has been planning this event for about a year, but circumstances beyond our control and a deployment to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, pushed the event later than we wanted," said Capt. Travis Burton, 355th FS pilot and key organizer for the event. "We wanted to show them some of the opportunities available in the Air Force."

"We were excited and thrilled when Colonel Rideout called us about setting up this tour," said Taber Rehbaum, Big Brothers Big Sisters director. "The children and their 'Bigs' couldn't wait to come out and visit Eielson."

The anticipation and excitement could be seen on the faces of the children and their "Bigs" as the bus drove them through the base and up to the doors of the squadron.

Highlights from the children's day included trying on the flight gear (G-suit, survival vest, harness, helmet and carrying the "saddle-bags"), looking through night-vision goggles and a hands-on tour of an A-10 aircraft; including a bird's eye view of the cockpit.

In addition, a side panel of an A-10 was removed and Master Sgt. James Burzumato showed the Big Brothers Big Sisters crew exactly where the gatling gun is located and how the 30mm ammunition is loaded.

"I think I was more excited than the kids," said Steve Hage, a Big Brother. "I was impressed by how many people helped coordinate this event to make this possible. This tour really helped show the children a very positive outlook on what our military does."

"We had fighter squadron personnel from intelligence, maintenance and support on hand to talk about our jobs and answer any questions the children had about our role in the Air Force," said Tech. Sgt. Jodi Schleicher of the 355th FS.

"It's important to foster our relationship with the community through events like this, and it's also important to provide positive role models for the kids in this program," said Captain Burton.

"It's events like these that continue building the already strong relationship Eielson has with its surrounding community," Ms. Rahbaum said.