349th ARS -- A Culture of Service

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Andre Briere
  • 349th Air Refueling Squadron commander
 The 349th Air Refueling Squadron is first and foremost an operational flying squadron. We exist for one purpose; to fly, fight and win our nation's wars.

We do that job at home and in the Area of Responsibility, every day of the week. But a big part of what makes the 349th ARS Bandits unique, and makes me incredibly proud to be the commander of this unit, is the extra effort and time our squadron dedicates to community outreach and volunteerism.

While flying will always be our number one focus, even the busiest aviators have some personal time off and members of the 349th ARS give thousands of hours of this time to the community every year.

I tell my folks that volunteerism is a "two-fer." Not only do our Air Force members get the opportunity to positively impact lives in their community, volunteerism also makes them better Airmen.

As Col. Crowhurst said after last summer's "Big for a Day" event, "...we believe developing leadership doesn't just happen by executing our mission; it also happens when we organize and run something outside our normal comfort zone."
In this regard as in so many others, Bandits truly exemplify "service before self."

Big Brothers/Big Sisters

The 349th ARS, McConnell and Big Brothers Big Sisters have worked in a partnership for more than 30 years. During this time over 1,000 McConnell volunteers have been matched to children from the BBBS waiting list.

While the 349th ARS is the wing lead for the BBBS community outreach program, the entire 22nd ARW gives its time and treasure selflessly to this worthy cause. In fact, this wing was recently recognized as the number one Big Brothers & Big Sisters Military/Law Enforcement Organization in the U.S.! One squadron alone couldn't do this, but we are proud to lead Team McConnell's efforts to reach out to underprivileged children in the greater Wichita area.

In 2010, the 349th led the base-wide Bowl for Kids Sake fundraiser, with teams participating from every group in the 22nd ARW, 184th Intelligence Wing, and 931st Air Refueling Group. This is the biggest way BBBS raises money to continue their charitable operations. McConnell raised over $25,000 in 2009-2010 alone! This makes us the leading military/law enforcement fundraiser in Kansas, and the number three organization of any size. During a time of economic difficulties, this contribution is all the more impressive.

In August, we led the annual "Big-for-a-Day" event that matched 61 children to "Bigs" and recruited 10 full-time sponsors for "Littles."

McConnell Airmen served as Big Brothers or Big Sister to 74 children in 2009/2010 and there are currently 53 McConnell matches.

This year's event promises to match even more children to positive role models from this base, who regularly demonstrate what a life of accomplishment and service is all about.

As one of our volunteers, 1st Lt. David Gribbin noted at the time, "by organizing events such as [Big for a Day] we serve as ambassadors to the civilian community-- increasing future recruitment as well as improving good will toward our service from the Wichita community and the nation."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Later in August, the 349th awarded the largest number of "Bandit Scholarships" ever. These scholarships are designed to help the neediest kids in the BBBS system buy school supplies. In a ceremony held in our auditorium, Col Crowhurst awarded $100 scholarships to 7 very excited families who had no idea they were receiving them.
In December, the 22nd ARW and 349th ARS hosted the first ever "Operation Santa-135." This event provided Christmas gifts and a VIP base tour to 29 of the most underprivileged kids in Wichita.

Capt. Mike Gregory organized the event, and arranged for "Santa" (Col. Archie Frye, then 931st ARG commander) to step off a KC-135 Stratotanker with huge bags of gifts for the kids.

He handed out two to four presents per child. For many of these kids, the gifts we gave were the only presents they received for Christmas. Generous McConnell Airmen donated over $2,000 in gifts to these very needy children.

Special thanks also goes to the 22nd Maintenance Group (decorated the Base Ops conference room), 22nd Director of Staff (donated all the wrapping paper), 22nd Operations Group (provided the labor, jet, crews and simulator time), 22nd Mission Support Group (gave a great fire station tour) and the McConnell Officer's Spouses Club (donated $150 for the lunch).

The 349th is honored to be the lead wing unit for this outstanding charity, and we look forward to an even bigger effort in 2011.

As Maj. Garret Bilbo my overall 2010 BBBS POC, said at the time, "There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a positive change you've made in the life of a child."
Capt. Jerry Bennett is our new Wing POC for 2011, so please contact him if you would like more information about the program.

A Culture of Service

In this article, I've only scratched the surface of the myriad ways the Bandits positively impact this wing and the greater Wichita community. I'm incredibly proud of the members of the 349th ARS and thankful to our McConnell team members who routinely step-up to make these events happen. From the flightline to our community, a "Culture of Service" is what makes the 349th ARS and McConnell a special place to work and serve.