Operation Stolen Cerberus VII: Giving back to Greek community

Members of the 37th Airlift Squadron, 1st Combat Communications Squadron and 700th Contracting Squadron stock boxes with childrens’ school supplies for donation at Elefsis Air Base, Greece, during Operation Stolen Cerberus VII, Sept. 12. More than 700 items were donated to a local orphanage in Athens, Greece.

ATHENS, Greece — Even one small act of good can make a difference in another person’s life.

Stolen Cerberus VII exercise participants came together Sep. 12 to donate school supplies and toys to a local orphanage in Athens, Greece.

“We [always] try to do some community outreach to show our appreciation to the host country,” said Natalie Caballero, 37th Airlift Squadron first sergeant. “It’s our way of giving back.”

The move was spearheaded by members of 37th AS, who made contact with the U.S. Embassy in Greece looking for orphanages accepting donations, Caballero said.

The orphanage that was selected, SOS Childrens’ Village Orphanage, is a branch of an international organization with the same name dedicated to fostering children. Due to COVID-19 concerns, the Airmen were not able to meet the children directly.

More than 700 items were donated to the facility, including backpacks, colored pencils, pens, folders, notebooks, sports balls, glue and other items.

“The entire 37th AS donated,” Caballero said. “A lot of spouses got involved and they were very excited to be a part of something cool.”

Caballero believes that donating to charitable organizations is important because it reinforces the true value of Flying Training Deployment: community.

“We’re building partnerships,” Caballero said.

Members of the 86th Airlift Wing and SOS Children’s Villages Orphanage staff pose for a photo in Athens, Greece, during Operation Stolen Cerberus VII, Sept. 12. The exercise was designed to enhance readiness and demonstrate a shared commitment to a peaceful, stable and secure Europe.

Chief Master Sgt. Marc Gonsalves, 37th AS chief enlisted manager, also emphasized the value of community and how these acts can have lasting implications with an anecdotal story about the origins of his aunt’s entry into the U.S. Air Force.

“She always had this strong support for the U.S. and the military,” Gonsalves explained. “A couple of years ago I said, ‘Hey Aunt Evelyn, where does this passion come from?”

Evelyn explained that as a child on Terceira Island, Azores, Airmen from Lajes Field would dress up as Santa Claus every Christmas and drive from village to village handing out candy to local children.

“During that time, they had so little that my aunt was worried the candy would be taken away by her grandmother, that it would be seen as this thing of excess,” Gonsalves recalled.

That one act shaped her entire worldview of what it meant to be an American and a member of the U.S. military, Gonsalves said.

“I like to think that those people dressing up as Santa Claus every year thought it was a small thing,” Gonsalves said. “They probably never realized the impact it made for that little girl in the Azores. It was something she’ll never forget for her entire life.”

Caballero said that they have plans to continue to donate in future FTDs, including Operation Stolen Cerberus VIII.