Warm and Dry

Manas Airmen provide new coats to neighbors in need

by Master Sgt. Tracy L. DeMarco, 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

In freezing temperatures, citizens of Vasilievka and Vinogradnoye villages in Kyrgystan ventured out to meet with their neighbors from the Transit Center at Manas and receive new coats.

More than 200 men, women and children were given new coats through Operation Warm and Dry, a TCM Theater Security Cooperation division sponsored programĀ  in its third year of execution.

“Thank you, we are very happy,” Mahabat said as she left the Vasilievka Elementary School with her son Marlen and daughter Meerim, both holding new coats.

Members of the 376th Expeditionary Operations Group have been sponsoring the Vasilievka Elementary School since 2005. They have completed a classroom renovation project and spent numerous hours with the children and faculty. They have shared cultural exchanges and the unit even raised money to fund a new stove to aid in meal preparation for the students.

“A lot of people come here and never leave the base,” said 1st Lt. Tahina Montoya, the 376th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron intelligence flight commander. “I’m glad I got a chance to experience the people.”

As families entered the school, Montoya took their blue or yellow tickets and guided them towards another TCM volunteer, so they could try on coats to get the perfect fit. A blue ticket was for a boy or man’s coat, while a yellow ticket indicated a girl or woman’s coat.

The majority of the coat recipients were identified by Ministry of Social Protection workers with the assistance of Manzura, the school principal.

After handing over her two tickets, Maili followed her two sons, Zukhuriddin, age 14, and Faridun, age 10, to the pile of boys coats. As each boy tried on a coat, Maili checked the fit, zipping them up and giving the boys a thumbs-up.

“This was a great opportunity to provide true humanitarian assistance,” said Senior Master Sgt. James Fitch, the 376th EOG superintendent, deployed here from Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. “Sometimes we play games or just spend time with the children, but a coat means a lot.”

In total, $300,000 worth of coats and blankets will be distributed throughout Kyrgyzstan via the Operation Warm and Dry initiative. This money will also boost the Kyrgyz economy since the coats and blankets are purchased locally.

In concert with the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the TCM received Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster and Civic Aid funding.

After finishing the distribution in Vasilievka, the team of eight TCM volunteers drove to Vinogradnoye Village.

Inside the village administration building with no electricity or heat, Airman 1st Class Molly Fletchall of the 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, smiling and sorting coats by size said, “Not so warm and dry.”

The extreme conditions didn’t stop Fletchall from meeting her goal of helping the community and it certainly didn’t deter the Kyrgyz people from making the trip either.

“Very good,” said Anna after she received her coat. “Americans are good people, they help us.”

At 90 years old, Valentina Kiselyova, a decorated World War II veteran who introduced herself as Mama Valentina, journeyed to receive her new coat.

“Thank you,” said Kiselyova proudly wearing six gold Army medals on a worn-black blazer which was held closed by a safety pin.

Born in Siberia, Kiselyova joined the Soviet Army when she was 19 years old in 1941. Three TCM volunteers gathered around her to hear her story. Kiselyova recounted how she served under Marshal Zhukov for five years as a spy.

“It was very dangerous, there were lots of difficult tasks,” she said. When asked what she got her medals for, Kiselyova said, “Ask Marshal Zhukov.”

Kiselyova left the Soviet Army in 1946, moved to Kyrgyzstan and has lived here ever since.

“Everybody knows me in Kyrgyzstan, now I am famous to the Americans,” Kiselyova said after taking several pictures with the service members from the TCM.

Listening intently, Montoya held the coat that Kiselyova selected at the Operation Warm and Dry event and helped Kiselyova navigate the icy front steps of the administration building.

“The need was out there,” Montoya said on the way back to the TCM. “The most rewarding thing was to see the happy faces.”

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