Remsenburg-Speonk Elementary School students sat wide-eyed last Thursday afternoon while five members of the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing spoke about their duties and projected pictures of past rescue missions on a big white screen set up in the school cafeteria.
The children, most of whom appeared floored by the images of helicopters and water rescues, were able to ask questions and learn more about the daily lives of the men and women who serve in the ANG, which is based at nearby Gabreski Airport in Westhampton. The room erupted in applause when one student asked how many lives Colonel Nicholas Broccoli, mission support group commander, had saved.
His answer: five personally, but more than 600 total by members of the wing.
“We enjoy doing our job,” Col. Broccoli told the students, in grades K-6, who had gathered for the presentation. “We enjoy coming to work and protecting the people in our country.”
The visit from the soldiers fit into the school’s “Pyramid of Success” program, which is focusing on alertness and action for the month of January, School Superintendent Ronald Masera explained.
“We really owe them a great debt of gratitude for their service to our country,” he said to his students.
After the assembly, two first grade classes immediately jumped into action by packing cardboard boxes with goodies for soldiers for the 106th Rescue Wing now stationed overseas. The little hands filled each box with cookies and snacks, playing cards and new socks. Each package was topped off with a card specially created by each student, complete with positive messages and American flags made with crayons.
Even after watching the captivating videos, first-grader James Gallagher, 7, said his favorite part of the day was packing the boxes, “because it was doing something nice” for the people in his community.
Rocco Carriero, whose financial advisory practice of Ameriprise Financial Services Inc., donated the supplies, said his firm did so to help spread word about all the good work that the ANG does.
“Even the people in our community don’t have a great awareness of what the base does,” said Mr. Carriero, whose daughter, Ella, is a first-grader at the Mill Road school.
Members of the 106th Rescue Wing carry out emergency relief missions following natural disasters and peacekeeping missions within the borders of the United States, but are also deployed overseas for training, humanitarian and contingency operations. The unit is best known for its pararescue operations in which helicopters are used to rescue people, including pilots stranded behind enemy lines.
The base itself employes more than 1,300 people and contributes more than $100 million annually into the local economy, according to officials.
Mr. Carriero said he worked with the Friends of the 106th Rescue Wing, a not-for-profit organization made up of community members committed to offering support to members of the 106th and their families, to plan the school visit and organize the packing and shipment of the care packages.
“These people leave their families and we just want them to know that we’re thinking of them,” Mr. Carriero said. “If we can put a smile on their faces and show them we care, then we know that our mission is accomplished.”