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Vandenberg continues 53 year holiday tradition

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Nearly 200 Airmen wait to escort children into the Pacific Coast Club for the 53rd annual Operation Kids Christmas here Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. OKC is an annual event, organized and run by a private organization, in which about 200 local children are brought on base and given the opportunity to play games, meet Santa and enjoy the companionship of volunteer military members. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Lael Huss)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Nearly 200 Airmen wait to escort children into the Pacific Coast Club for the 53rd annual Operation Kids Christmas here Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. OKC is an annual event, organized and run by a private organization, in which about 200 local children are brought on base and given the opportunity to play games, meet Santa and enjoy the companionship of volunteer military members. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Lael Huss)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Carla Sixto, 9 year old from the Lompoc area, receives a blue backpack full of goodies from a volunteer while on her way to the ballroom for the Operation Kids Christmas event at the Pacific Coast Club here Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. OKC is an annual event, organized and run by a private organization, in which nearly 200 local children are brought on base and given the opportunity to play games, meet Santa and enjoy the companionship of volunteer military members. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Lael Huss)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Carla Sixto, 9 year old from the Lompoc area, receives a blue backpack full of goodies from a volunteer while on her way to the ballroom for the Operation Kids Christmas event at the Pacific Coast Club here Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. OKC is an annual event, organized and run by a private organization, in which nearly 200 local children are brought on base and given the opportunity to play games, meet Santa and enjoy the companionship of volunteer military members. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Lael Huss)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Lt. Adam Carsdale, a student from the 532nd Training Squadron, looks through the goodies in Jose Cazares’, age 7 from the Santa Maria area, backpack during the Operation Kids Christmas event at the Pacific Coast Club here Saturday, Dec. 12, 2012. OKC is an annual event, organized and run by a private organization, in which almost 200 local children are brought on base and given the opportunity to play games, meet Santa and enjoy the companionship of volunteer military members. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Lael Huss)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Lt. Adam Carsdale, a student from the 532nd Training Squadron, looks through the goodies in Jose Cazares’, age 7 from the Santa Maria area, backpack during the Operation Kids Christmas event at the Pacific Coast Club here Saturday, Dec. 12, 2012. OKC is an annual event, organized and run by a private organization, in which almost 200 local children are brought on base and given the opportunity to play games, meet Santa and enjoy the companionship of volunteer military members. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Lael Huss)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Diego Garcia, age 6 from the Santa Ynez area, opens his backpack during the Operation Kids Christmas event at the Pacific Coast Club’s Ballroom here Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. OKC is an annual event, organized and run by a private organization, in which roughly 200 local children are brought on base and given the opportunity to play games, meet Santa and enjoy the companionship of volunteer military members. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Lael Huss)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Diego Garcia, age 6 from the Santa Ynez area, opens his backpack during the Operation Kids Christmas event at the Pacific Coast Club’s Ballroom here Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. OKC is an annual event, organized and run by a private organization, in which roughly 200 local children are brought on base and given the opportunity to play games, meet Santa and enjoy the companionship of volunteer military members. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Lael Huss)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Children sit on the floor as their escorts stand for a magicians act during the Operation Kids Christmas event at the Pacific Coast Club here Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. OKC is an annual event, organized and run by a private organization, in which around 200 local children are brought on base and given the opportunity to play games, meet Santa and enjoy the companionship of volunteer military members. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Lael Huss)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Children sit on the floor as their escorts stand for a magicians act during the Operation Kids Christmas event at the Pacific Coast Club here Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. OKC is an annual event, organized and run by a private organization, in which around 200 local children are brought on base and given the opportunity to play games, meet Santa and enjoy the companionship of volunteer military members. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Lael Huss)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – A young man plays with the airplane launcher while waiting for lunch to be served during the Operation Kids Christmas event at the Pacific Coast Club here Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. OKC is an annual event, organized and run by a private organization, in which almost 200 local children are brought on base and given the opportunity to play games, meet Santa and enjoy the companionship of volunteer military members. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Lael Huss)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – A young man plays with the airplane launcher while waiting for lunch to be served during the Operation Kids Christmas event at the Pacific Coast Club here Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. OKC is an annual event, organized and run by a private organization, in which almost 200 local children are brought on base and given the opportunity to play games, meet Santa and enjoy the companionship of volunteer military members. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Lael Huss)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Col. Brent McArthur, the 30th Space Wing
vice-commander, speaks during the Operation Kids Christmas event at the
Pacific Coast Club here Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. OKC is an annual event,
organized and run by a private organization, in which nearly 200 local
children are brought on base and given the opportunity to play games, meet
Santa and enjoy the companionship of volunteer military members. (U.S. Air
Force photo/Senior Airman Lael Huss)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Col. Brent McArthur, the 30th Space Wing vice-commander, speaks during the Operation Kids Christmas event at the Pacific Coast Club here Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. OKC is an annual event, organized and run by a private organization, in which nearly 200 local children are brought on base and given the opportunity to play games, meet Santa and enjoy the companionship of volunteer military members. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Lael Huss)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- While some families were busy with the normal holiday hustle and bustle that can come with the beginning of December, hundreds of Vandenberg Airmen were checking back-packs, schedules and presents to ensure local, underprivileged children were afforded a traditional holiday experience.

The 53rd annual Operation Kids' Christmas event was underway this Saturday, Dec. 1, with many Team V volunteers arriving before sunrise to confirm details before 200 children descended on the Pacific Coast Club here.

"More than 650 Vandenberg Airmen, Department of Defense civilians and contractors arrived as early as 5 a.m. to begin all preparation and coordination that goes into making an awesome holiday party for hundreds of kids," said Ross Wetmore, OKC chairman and 381st Training Group Airman. "The planning for this event began in February in order to ensure these kids had the best experience we could provide."

These volunteers put together new backpacks, several present and a Christmas dinner for the children and their families.

"Each child received a backpack filled with tiny toys, like bouncy-balls, coloring books and crayons and a Christmas dinner consisting of a ham, canned yams,potatos,butter,stuffing...all the typical fixings," Wetmore said. "We also had a 'Santa' here who gave the children three bigger, gender specific, toys."

While this event revolves around the children, it held a great significance for some of the adults in attendance as well.

Sharon McGinnis and Shelley Watkins, daughters of the late Michael Petlanksy, otherwise known as Pepi the Clown, who founded OKC in 1959, donned Santa hats and were in the receiving line to welcome the kids as they entered the PCC. This was the first OKC since their father passed away earlier this year.

"Continuing this event is important because it's about letting these kids know we care about them," Watkins said. "What we do here can really change a life."

According to Watkins, Abel Maldonado, the 48th Lieutenant Governor of California, came through OKC as a child and spoke of the good things it did for him and his family.

"Abel Maldonado was so touched by what the event did for him as a child that he proclaimed a day, 'Pepi the Clown day' in honor of my dad," Watkins said. "It makes me feel so great to see my dad's legacy continuing. This was his greatest accomplishment."

The founder's daughters also said that everybody, not just the kids, walks away with something after OKC and some Vandenberg volunteers agree.

"After seeing the smiles on the kids' faces you know that they feel loved," said Jessica Styles, Vandenberg Airman and OKC escort. "As a mom, its wonderful to give back to kids that are less fortunate and show that they're never alone during the holidays."