Hundreds of buddies help at KMC Special Olympics

by Rick Scavetta
U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern

Crowds of spectators cheered as MeeHee Ashe and fellow Special Olympics athletes sprinted down the 50-meter track during the annual games held in Enkenbach-Alsenborn.

For those 22 seconds, as she ran under sunny skies beside German and American athletes, Ms. Ashe, 27, felt happy, she said. Over the past few weeks, she has been training and preparing herself for the May 5 event – as she has done for more than two decades.

“I like to run,” she said. “I forget about some things and just do it.”

The spring games, sponsored by U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern, included tennis, track and field, badminton, soccer, basketball, and volleyball. They have been held in the KMC for 28 years – the past 14 years at the German police academy, whose officers also supported the event. In all, more than 800 German and American athletes took part. They were supported by roughly 1,300 volunteers.

Lorelai Browning, 17, a Vilseck High School student, carried the Olympic torch into the arena. Her parents, Sgt. 1st Class Henry Browning and his wife Lorenna, watched with pride.

“It’s such an honor for her,”  Mrs. Browning said. “We’re so excited.”

Everyone who took part is a winner, said Lt. Col Kevin Hutchison, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern, during his opening remarks.

“These games are intended to help the athletes gain confidence and build a positive self-image that carries over into the classroom, home, job and community,” Colonel Hutchison said. “It also fosters friendships between volunteers and athletes and provides a forum for better understanding of adults and children with intellectual disabilities.”

Nearby, Spc. Brad Abraham, 20, handed Aaron Evans, 10, a bottle of water as the Ramstein Intermediate School student prepared for his sprint. Specialist Abraham was among hundreds of Kaiserslautern Soldiers and Airmen who volunteered to support the event.

“In the Army, helping people is part of what we do,” Specialist Abraham said. “It’s fun, when you get into it.” 

Aaron darted down the dusty track, flanked by other children who laughed and smiled as they crossed the finish line. Afterward, Specialist Abraham pinned a yellow ribbon to Aaron’s blue Special Olympics T-shirt.

“I enjoy seeing kids enjoying this,” Specialist Abraham said. “If they’re having fun, then we’re having fun.”

The event marked the second year as a volunteer for Senior Airman James Carlisle, 29, an engineering assistant at the 86th Civil Engineering Squadron on Ramstein. He served as a buddy for Dominik Keller, 7. Airman Carlisle noticed Dominik and other young athletes were not so interested in “hearing all the talk in the beginning,” he said.

“They knew what they wanted when they got here. The first thing out of their mouth was ‘Fussball’ — they wanted to play soccer,” Airman Carlisle said. “They look forward to this all year. It’s really exciting.”

Also during the event, children received plastic firefighters’ hats and clambered into U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern fire trucks on display.

Nearby, participants made arts and crafts projects and hitched rides on a mini-train. Garrison volunteers sweated over huge grills, barbecuing hundreds of hot dogs and hamburgers.

The final sporting event was a friendly soccer match between German and American athletes. Germany won, 8-0. Then, crowds applauded as Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Jessup led fellow senior enlisted leaders from Kaiserslautern’s Army and Air Force units in the presentation of medallions to athletes.

Ms. Ashe climbed the pedestal and slightly bowed to receive her medal to the cheers of her parents, Charlie and Nelda, plus hundreds of other people crowding the grandstands. Afterward, athletes, volunteers and spectators joined hands in a huge circle and sang “We Are The World.”

“It feels happy inside,” Ms. Ashe said. “It’s about winning and it’s not about losing. It’s about having fun.”