Photos and story by BUCN Laine Pulfer, NMCB 3 Public Affairs
BUCN Alex Abeyta, NMCB 3, motivates his athlete during the 40 yard dash during the Kadena Special Olympics.
Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 3 joined thousands of other service members, volunteers, supporters and athletes gathered at Kadena Air Base’s, Risner Fitness Center in Okinawa, Japan, to kick off the 14th-annual Kadena Special Olympics (KSO), Sat., Nov. 2.
More than 20 Seabees volunteered more than 50 hours each to clean the grounds and set up more than 1,000 chairs, 120 tables and 37 tents in order to host nearly 850 athletes and their supporters. The volunteers began their support a week prior to the event which drew in more than 5,000 people, making it the largest Special Olympics outside of the United States.
According to Air Force Master Sgt. Thomas Flammger, the event’s volunteer coordinator, Seabees were sought out to help thanks to their ability to commit to taxing volunteer workload.
“Each year the Seabees provide something other forces in the area can’t, and that is consistency,” said Flammger.
All 20 NMCB 3 volunteers put in a full week of support – eight hours each day – to help set up for the event. The group also helped with the KSO’s 18 different athletic events the day of, and helped clean up the day after.
“This is the biggest event the 18th Wing hosts and it cannot happen with just the Air Force alone,” added Flammger.
Seabees from NMCB 3 finish setting up tables before the kick off of the 14th Annual Kadena Special Olympics, Kadena Air Base, Japan.
Volunteers from the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Army all provided logistical support and equipment. Supporters from each branch also cheered on the athletes as they arrived to the KSO, during all athletic events and until they were safely on their way home at the end of the day. The support from service members was sincere. Service member volunteers shined beneath grins and high-fives that supported an important section of the local community. According to Air Force Maj. Christopher Smith, the KSO’s director of operations, the event helped service members reaffirm the military’s goal to be a positive influence to our valuable host nation and ally.
Last year, Smith volunteered as a KSO “Hugger.” Huggers are volunteers who assist and encourage special-needs athletes from the beginning of the day until the very last competitive event. They participate hand-in-hand and never leave each other’s side.
Huggers from NMCB 3 showed up to the event full of energy and ready to support their athletes as the buses pulled up to the Risner Fitness Center. The crowd of volunteers clapped and cheered as each athlete unloaded the bus into a swarm of infectious excitement.
“I had such a great time with my athlete,” said Equipment Operator 1st Class Angel Laracuente with a big smile, watching the crowds of athletes around him. “I enjoy volunteering for events like this because it helps keep me grounded.”
Each Seabee along with their athlete and family were all assigned a translator to help them communicate better.
“The language barrier was a little frustrating at first, but after a while I learned what worked best and became more comfortable with my athlete,” said Construction Electrician Raven Hill. “I had so much fun and my athlete did great!”
Smith said the Seabees effort and reliability was critical to the event’s success.
“They are silent heroes,” said Smith during the final day of setup as Seabees built the final tent. “Seabees really know how to make things happen.”
KSO was established by the 18th Wing Commander in 1999 as an avenue to build relations with neighboring communities and local government representatives while providing a meaningful activity for the special needs children and adults.
Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 3’s Maxmilian Hefty and his athlete show off their face paintings they had done at the 14th Annual Kadena Special Olympics.
Seabees assigned to Okinawa are consistently called upon to assist the annual KSO and are critical to the event’s success.
NMCB 3’s main body is deployed to Okinawa but has nine other details performing critical construction projects in remote island areas such as Timor-Leste, Tonga, Cambodia and the Philippines. The teams will also conduct operations in Atsugi, Yokosuka and Okinawa, Japan; Chinhae, Republic of Korea and China Lake, Calif. The Naval Construction Force is a vital component of the U.S. Maritime Strategy. They provide deployable battalions capable of providing disaster preparation and recovery support, humanitarian assistance and combat operations support.