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Vandenberg Airmen support Special Olympics

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A young woman completes a long jump during the Special Olympics here April 19. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Christian Thomas)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A young woman completes a long jump during the Special Olympics here April 19. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Christian Thomas)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The Vandenberg Honor Guard march before the crowd during the opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics here April 19, 2008. Vandenberg is scheduled to host the 2009 Special Olympics Harry Wood Area Games presented by Northern Santa Barbara County at 9 a.m. April 25 at the base track here. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Christian Thomas)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The Vandenberg Honor Guard march before the crowd during the opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics here April 19, 2008. Vandenberg is scheduled to host the 2009 Special Olympics Harry Wood Area Games presented by Northern Santa Barbara County at 9 a.m. April 25 at the base track here. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Christian Thomas)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Racers reach the finish line after a competition during the Special Olympics here April 19. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Christian Thomas)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Racers reach the finish line after a competition during the Special Olympics here April 19. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Christian Thomas)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Hawkman watches the a race with a competitor during the Special Olympics here April 19. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christopher Hubenthal-Magarian)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Hawkman watches the a race with a competitor during the Special Olympics here April 19. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christopher Hubenthal-Magarian)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A tradition nearly two decades in the making continued here when Vandenberg hosted the Northern Santa Barbara County Special Olympics at the base track April 19.

Approximately 700 athletes, Airmen, family members and local officials attended the event, which has been an annual occurrence on base for the last 19 years.

During the games, more than 100 athletes competed in a series of track and field events to qualify for the Southern California Special Olympics.

For Capt. Jason Wyrick, an ICBM test operations officer at the 576th Flight Test Squadron who coordinated the planning and execution of this event since late January, these games were a matter of personal significance

"I have a brother who is mentally handicapped and I've spent several years being associated with the Special Olympics," Captain Wyrick said. "When this event came up, I jumped at the opportunity and volunteered."

While this was his first time taking on an event of this scale and scope, Captain Wyrick said he's received tremendous support from all Team Vandenberg organizations. More than 400 Vandenberg Airmen, family members and civilians volunteered to support the event.

"There's been overwhelming support from all the organizations on base," said Capt. Matthew Hlivko, an ICBM test operations officer at the 576th FLTS who was lead volunteer coordination for the event. "I can't think of a single unit who isn't involved in some capacity."

About 160 of the volunteers acted as escorts and encouraged athletes who were assigned to them prior to the games. Meanwhile, approximately 80 more volunteers helped facilitate the sporting events. The remaining volunteers helped set up and take down the field, Captain Hlivko said.

Vandenberg was not the only community who came together to make this event a success, according to Captain Wyrick

"We had great support from the local community," he said.

A local Latin dance troupe and tae kwon do demonstration offered free entertainment to attendees throughout the event and the Kiwanis gave free lunched to athletes and escorts.

For more than five years, the 576th FLTS TOP HAND ICBM test team has taken the lead in coordinating these annual games. According to Captain Wyrick, the greatest prize of the games is shared by everyone involved.

"The best part of the special Olympics is to see the joy and satisfaction on the faces of the athletes and the bond that's quickly formed between the athlete and his or her escort" Captain Wyrick said. "It really is a rewarding experience for both of them"