04/28/04 — Base Relay for Life effort grows

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Base Relay for Life effort grows

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on April 28, 2004 2:11 PM

What started out as a single effort to honor a mother and father has turned into a community-wide endeavor to help the many people fighting cancer.

Seymour Johnson Air Force Base began participating in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life four years ago. Kim Hernandez, a reservist with the 916th Air Refueling Squadron, started a team.

Since then the base has competed each year and this year has 11 teams so far.

Ms. Hernandez explained that she started the first base team because she lost her mother to cancer in January 2000 and her father to cancer the next month. Then her brother was diagnosed with leukemia.

"Someone with the Wayne County Unit of the Cancer Society came to me and asked what I thought about having a base team, and I've been doing it ever since," she said.

Ms. Hernandez said she thought the Relay was so much fun that the second year, she encouraged other squadrons on base to participate. "We had 263 members on our team in 2001," she said.

"In 2002, we broke the one base team down into smaller teams and separated them by squadrons. We've been doing it like that ever since."

Ms. Hernandez said this is the first year that the base had so much response. It currently has 11 teams with between 18 and 25 people on each team.

"We've had an overwhelming response this year," she said. "All of the base teams will have their own campsite."

Ms. Hernandez is the Relay for Life coordinator for the base. Since getting involved that first year, she has also helped coordinate the survivor's banquet and has worked with logistics.

She said it hasn't been difficult to get base personnel to participate. But the difficult part for them has been getting to all of the Relay meetings. "So I go in their place and if they need any materials, I pick them up," she said. "If they have any questions, they call me."

Ms. Hernandez explains to the base people that the Relay for Life is a family event and is not structured. She also stresses that it's good volunteer time.

"The Relay is about a community that takes up the fight," she said. "We raise money, hang out and fellowship."

Why do so many military members from the base take up the cause for the Cancer Society?

"I lost my grandmother to breast, ovarian cancer and I have a cousin who is battling a brain tumor," said Tech. Sgt. Heidi Gee, co-captain of the 4th Medical Group Relay team. "My cousin's only hope now is radiation and it's not looking good. Since being a part of the military we don't always get to be near the ones we love, we have to adopt others to be our family. Wayne County is my family for now."

Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Smith, a member of the 916th Relay team, said he does it because "we have members who are survivors of the disease and members who have family and friends who are survivors or who have succumbed to the disease. We know that support for this dreaded disease is paramount for the much-needed research looking for a cure."

For 2nd Lt. Matthew Lynch, team captain for the 4th Logistics Readiness Group Relay team, participating in the event was a way to rally support for Tech. Sgt. Arthur Thibodeau. Thidodeau recently lost his battle with cancer. Now it's in memory of him.

"I volunteer personally because I have lost a grandfather and a friend to cancer and know a few people who are still fighting," Lynch said. "Also, and most importantly, I'm a Christian and saw the opportunity to help those in need."

Robert Kindlesparker, a civilian worker at Seymour Johnson and a member of the Air Force Sergeants Association Relay team, does it because his wife's younger sister died of breast cancer. "It is in our hearts and minds every minute of every day, and it is what drives us to do to things to help others, which is also what keeps us feeling good and enjoying life," he said. "In turn, feeling good and enjoying life makes us feel young inside. So you see, it is a cycle that has become a part of our life."

Ms. Hernandez said the 916th has four cancer survivors and that's the most important reason it chose to have a team again. And the co-captain for the Civil Engineering Squadron Relay team is also a survivor.

Ms. Hernandez said the base is excited this year to have the support of the base commander's wife, Elizabeth Rosborg, who is heading up the Officers' and Civilian Spouses' Club with 22 team members. And both the base commander and 916th commander support the Relay 100 percent, she said.

Also this year, personnel from the transportation squadron have volunteered to drive buses during the event, said Ms. Hernandez. The medical squadron has volunteered to be out there in case someone has a problem. The security forces personnel volunteered to park cars.

Other base teams include 4th Communications, Fighter Wing Command Post, 4th Comptroller Squadron, Operations Group, 4th Equipment Maintenance Squadron and 4th Equipment Maintenance Squadron.

"It just gets bigger and bigger each year with our people coming together," Ms. Hernandez said.

"People shouldn't wait till it hits home or before they know somebody with cancer. They should try to get out there and help now."

This year's Relay for Life will be held May 14 and 15 at Eastern Wayne High School.