by Staff Sgt. Carolyn Viss
376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
TRANSIT CENTER AT MANAS, Kyrgyzstan – Two young enlisted Airmen started a fundraiser last month that had a contagious effect, ending with $5,000 for the Manas Area Benefits Outreach Society children’s heart surgery fund.
Beginning with a goal of raising about $500 — enough to fund one surgery — the 376th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron soon donated 10 times the original goal, thanks to the initial generosity of two men who saw the opportunity to save the life of a Kyrgyz child.
“I offered to match donations dollar-for-dollar up to $250,” said Staff Sgt. Eric Miles, an Air National Guard vehicle operator deployed to the 376th ELRS from Little Rock Air Force Base.
When he sent a squadron-wide email suggesting Airmen donate whatever they can, even if it was only a dollar, and offering to match funds to pay for a surgery, his co-worker, Senior Airman Armand Boddie, jumped on board. He hit “reply-all” and offered $250 right off the bat.
“That kind of set the pace,” Sergeant Miles said.
The MABOS heart program began in 2005 by Jim Carney, a retired Army first sergeant with a passion for helping Kyrgyz children, according to a MABOS representative. Mr. Carney established a partnership with a local surgeon, Dr. Samidin Shabraliev, who agreed to donate his services for free if others would pay for a device called an oxygenator (mechanical lung), which costs $560. Since then, through charitable donations, MABOS has paid for 152 life-saving/life-changing surgeries for indigent Kyrgyz families. The surgeries are performed at the Heart Surgery and Organ Transplant Research Institute in Bishkek. They are able to operate on approximately 15 children a week, but are restricted from doing more surgeries by the space, equipment and beds in the intensive care unit where each child spends their first two days after surgery.
As a father of five, Sergeant Miles said when he saw the opportunity to save a life he couldn’t resist wanting to donate.
“We do so many humanitarian assistance missions, but how often do we actually have the opportunity to save a life?” he asked.
“This is bigger than an ordinary HA mission. We will affect the child’s whole future, and their family’s future for the better.
Then they’ll be able to grow up and have their own families, just like we do.”
Both Airmen were modest about the success of the fundraiser, saying they didn’t do it for any recognition but rather because they felt it was right.
“What goes around, comes around,” Airman Boddie said. “I have four sisters and a brother, and I have friends with kids, too. I plan to have kids one day. This just grabbed me.”
With the bar set high, the squadron pitched in, contributing $2,500 within 30 minutes after Sergeant Miles hit “send” on the e-mail.
“This was way bigger than anything I expected,” Sergeant Miles said. “I just thought whatever people could spare would help so much, even if it was 50 cents.”
Within four days, $5,000 had poured in, and they decided to end the drive. About 75 percent of the total amount ended up coming in $100 increments or higher from technical sergeants and below, Sergeant Miles said.
“This speaks volumes about the future leaders of our Air Force,” he said. “If this is the kind of generosity they are showing at a young age, when they go through the ranks to become senior NCOs they will be great leaders.”
With a staff sergeant and senior airman setting the example for the Transit Center at Manas’ largest squadron, now the whole installation is getting on board with a new goal: 300 lives in 30 days. Airmen across the Transit Center are asking their friends, families, and co-workers to sponsor them in a “Bike Your Heart Out” bike-a-thon to raise money for the MABOS heart surgery fund, and the two Airmen who started a trend couldn’t be happier.
“Success is measured not by how much money you have but by how many people you bless,” Airman Boddie observed.
Personally, he said, he’d rather spend that $250 on a heart surgery than on anything else he could buy during his six-month deployment from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, to the Transit Center at Manas.
When he redeploys, he doesn’t care about a medal or an award, he said. He just wants to know he made a difference.
“It’s a lot easier to move five people than it is to move millions,” Sergeant Miles said.
Yet, because of his matching offer, a squadron of 500 moved ... and then an installation of 1,100 ... to affect more than 300 lives of Kyrgyz children and their families - almost half of the total known number of children in Kyrgyzstan who currently need this operation.