05/17/05 — Relay team featured members from 7 states

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Relay team featured members from 7 states

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on May 17, 2005 1:45 PM

The 916th Air Refueling Wing from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base was one of 105 teams in this year's Relay for Life.

But there was one thing about this team that made it totally different from any of the others -- its 110 members came from Florida, Georgia, Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Maryland and Washington D.C.

Kimberly Browne, who originally started a base team six years ago, realized that the Relay fell on a reserve weekend this year and asked the wing commander if the out-of-town reservists could participate. He gave his blessing and Ms. Browne began organizing the reservists onto the team.

"After talking with a lot of the reservists, they were not aware of this cancer walk and decided to do it to honor loved ones they know why have had or now have cancer," Ms. Browne said.

"Another reason we had a lot of operations guys (pilots and boom operators) involved was that one of our own beloved secretaries was diagnosed with cancer again this year after being clean for years and they wanted to honor her, too."

Even the vice commander, who lives in Charleston, S.C., attended the Relay.

The team called itself the 916th ARW Team Tanker. It's theme was "Putt For The Cure" and featured a small putting green where people could try their hand at golfing for a donation.

Their goal was $1,400, but the reservists have raised $2,300 so far, with money still coming in.

One of the 916th's participants was Staff Sgt. Ian D. Gardner. The 31-year-old reservist lives in Kinston. This was his fourth year of doing the Relay.

He said he does it because "My community and God have been so good to me that it's time for me to give something back.

"I really enjoyed the first one so I've gone back every year. My first three years I did in New Bern. This year I got involved with the one here."

Gardner said to raise money, the team sold luminarias, yellow ribbon magnets and colored bracelets.

He said the most memorable moment of the Relay for him was when the survivors did their lap led by a bagpiper. "It's very touching," he said.

He said the Relay is "an absolutely wonderful idea. It's an incredible way to raise money and try to find a cure for cancer. I just can't believe the amount of participation."

Another team member was Master Sgt. Mario Velez, 42, 916th first sergeant. This was the Fayetteville resident's first year of participating in the Relay.

"I really didn't know what I was getting involved with," he said. "After I found out that it had to do with cancer, I said 'Hey, this is a good cause.'

"My grandmother passed away from cancer. So it was definitely personal. And it was definitely a good cause."

He walked and covered two shifts. "But I didn't even think about it being two shifts. It was such a pleasure being there. And I was amazed at how many people were there.

"I'll definitely do it again next year."

Senior Airman Tonya Williams, 27, maintenance squadron, has walked in the relay the past three years, but this was her first year of actually helping out at the campsite. The Pikeville resident said she and her two sons also walked around the track, ate some good food at the event and even camped out overnight.

She has a co-worker who is a cancer survivor and that is an added reason for her to participate in the Relay.

She said the best part for her is the lighting of the luminarias. "Everyone gets quiet and it brings everyone's emotions out at the same time. You can just see the look on people's faces. It means something to everyone there.

"It think it's just awesome. It's a great way to raise awareness and raise money at the same time while getting people together. Everyone's in great spirits and it's just a great feeling."