Ramstein supports Bulgarian orphanage

Story and photo by Airman 1st Class Tony R. Ritter
Ramstein Public Affairs

It was an ordinary sight as a small group of U.S Air Force members gathered in a hangar and pried open a 1,500 pound cargo container. But what was inside was far from ordinary.

Rather than military equipment and supplies, this massive container was filled to the brim with diapers, infant formula, wipes, baby cosmetics and toys.

During the two week long Operation Thracian Spring, held at Bezmer Air Base, Bulgaria, Ramstein Airmen took time on their off day to pay a visit to children at a local orphanage and deliver donations.

The orphanage, considered a Medical and Social Care Children’s Home by the

Bulgarian Ministry of Health, has been the recipient of various donations from Ramstein’s Airmen during the last few years.

“We started collecting donations in early January by setting up drop-boxes and establishing points of contact in different squadrons and organizations to get the word out,” said Maj. Michael Sheldon, 86th Operations Support Squadron, who was the lead

planner and coordinator for the visit. “Everyone pitched in and together we collected over 1,500 pounds of care items,” he said.

The charitable items were collected on Ramstein during a two-month period and were donated by organizations across the base. The donations came primarily from the 86th Contingency Response Group, 86th Air Mobility Squadron, 86th OSS, 86th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 835th Civil Engineer Squadron, 37th Airlift Squadron and the Ramstein Officers’ Spouses Club.

In a convoy of vans loaded with the donations, Ramstein members set off to the children’s home several miles outside of Bezmer Air Base.

Upon arrival at the orphanage, miniature faces could already be seen in windows, curiously straining to catch a peek of the uniformed Airmen as they began off-loading the donations with the help of the orphanage staff.

Boxes of diapers, formula, wipes, baby shampoo, powders and other such items soon filled the entrance and hallway of the facility.

After the work was done, the Ramstein team wasted no time breaking up into groups to play with the 50 plus children.

As the Airmen visited the infant nursery, the innocent eyes of the Bulgarian babies illuminated the room.

It became impossible for the visitors to pass by their cribs without reaching out a finger to their delicate little hands or rubbing their tightly swaddled tummies.

“It was a beautiful and humbling experience to see these perfect little faces staring back and smiling at us,” said Staff Sgt. Vanessa Wyatt, 835th CES fire department crew chief. “One of them must have been less than 3 months old.”

It seemed as though the group had gained instant rapport as the toddlers held hands, danced and sang to a traditional Bulgarian song for their endearing visitors.

Capt. Walter Gray, 86th AMS operations flight manager, clapped and moved along with the exuberant children.

“As a father of three kids, it was an absolute honor to participate in this visit and help out with the donations,” Captain Gray said. “Everyone benefits from this kind of thing.”

With empty hands and full hearts, the group of Ramstein Airmen re-grouped and prepared to leave, but not before they were met at the facility’s steps by the children’s home director, who was visibly moved and grateful for the Airmen’s generosity.

Before allowing them to leave she told them, “the resources you have given us are greatly appreciated and will help us to do better things here,” she said. “And you can be sure that there are always things to be done.”