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Vandenberg volunteers, hosts NSBC Special Olympics

On his way to finish in first place, Ramare Ceja races during the 100-yard run at the Special Olympics held at the Vandenberg track April 21.  (Photo by Staff Sgt. Jamie Lessard)

On his way to finish in first place, Ramare Ceja races during the 100-yard run at the Special Olympics held at the Vandenberg track April 21. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Jamie Lessard)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- In the spirit of cooperation and camaraderie, Vandenberg hosted the Northern Santa Barbara County Special Olympics at the base track April 21.

In what has become an annual tradition, hundreds of Vandenberg's Airmen and civilians volunteered to transform the base track into a Special Olympics stadium and escort about 135 athletes during the event.

The day started off clear, warm and without wind as a parade of athletes and their escorts, led by the Vandenberg Honor Guard, circled the track to the medal pit on the fitness center side of the track, where family, friends and fans in an uproar cheered the athletes.

After opening comments, sirens wailed in the distance. As the sound approached, a flight from the 30th Security Forces Squadron ran in formation onto the track, with the Special Olympics torch held in the lead.

The torch passed to Special Olympian Patrick Del Real, 12, of Santa Maria, who carried it to the brazier in the medal pit. As he lit the brazier, the flame blazed to life, signifying the beginning of the games as the crowd roared.

After the games commenced, the participants set off quickly to compete in 14 various track and field events, including the softball throw, standing long jump, shot-put and running events.

The top three finishers from each event and age group qualified for the Southern California Special Olympics set for June 15 to 17, said Alex Posada, area director for the NSBC Special Olympics.

Mr. Posada began to volunteer with the Special Olympics in 1984 when the event was held in Santa Maria. He welcomed the opportunity to move the event to Vandenberg, he said, when Maj. Gen. Jack Watkins, 1st Strategic Aerospace Division commander, invited the Special Olympics onto base 18 years ago.

Holding the Special Olympics at Vandenberg has guaranteed the success of the event.

"It's hard, almost impossible to get this many volunteers from the civilian community," Mr. Posada said, squinting across the green field to the swarm of volunteers, athletes and spectators. "It would just be very hard on us to do this without the base's help."

Coordinating hundreds of volunteers is no overnight task. Capt. Wendy Quick, Vandenberg Special Olympics coordinator, has spent the past five months preparing for this event. But getting volunteers was a breeze.

"We had a great turnout of volunteers," Captain Quick said. About 20 percent of them had volunteered in previous years, she added.

It was also an opportunity for classes like Airman Leadership School to work together on projects for their curriculum, said 2nd Lt. Colleen Smith, Vandenberg Special Olympics volunteer coordinator. She said it was a huge help for the classes to pull through.

"We've been doing this for so many years, people can't wait for it to come around," Captain Quick said. "It's a kind of tradition to do this for the community."

Another community partner, Santa Barbara County law enforcement representatives played their part, not only by providing a presence at the event and an emcee for the announcements, but also for their generous monetary contribution.

"We've raised $60,000 this year (for the Special Olympics)," said police Lt. Ken George, Southern California Law Enforcement Torch Run coordinator. The funds to benefit the Special Olympics come from several Santa Barbara events throughout the year, including the Lompoc Car Show, Tip-A-Cop dinners and the Bull Canyon 5K/10K fun run to be held May 12.

For more information on Southern California Law Enforcement Torch Run fundraising events, click here.