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COMSFOR Flight Detachment reaches out to local students

By Sgt. Kerensa Hardy
First published in
SFOR Informer#117, July 11, 2001

Sarajevo - A final trip to visit an SFOR unit at the Sarajevo International Airport signalled the end to a school year and the beginning to a much-anticipated summer to a group of students.
About 50 children and three teachers from Osnovna School in Dobrinja were welcomed to the hangar that is home to the COMSFOR Flight Detachment.
This fourth trip to the hangar was part of an outreach programme that began in November. The 24 American soldiers who make up the detachment are from the 3rd Infantry Division, Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Georgia.
This programme provided a change in the day-to-day activities of the detachment, whose primary duty is to transport COMSFOR wherever he needs to go.
"I told (the headmaster) that I thought that it would be a good idea for some of my soldiers to come down and do a community service project with the school," said Capt. Michael Rutkowski, detachment commander
He said he thought it was important to show the children that the Americans are here supporting SFOR, and part of that is reaching out to and interacting with the local community.
"And what better way to do that than with the children? They're going to be the ones who are going to carry on the future of (BiH)," Rutkowski said.
Since its inception, one soldier from the detachment would go into one of the classrooms once a week, teach them English and answer some of their questions. Recently, the students began coming to the hangar for tours, a different group each time.
"The kids have been great," said Sgt. 1st Class John Van Vactor, maintenance platoon leader, who is something of a local celebrity with the children. "We had a chance to show them what we do … while we're here. They get to ask whatever they like ... and we get to dispel some of what they see on television about Americans."
Van Vactor said he has always enjoyed doing this kind of thing and it's rewarding to work with this particular group. The Osnovna School has 800 students and about 52 teachers. Because there are so many, students and teachers come in two shifts - one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
"Of those 800, 400 are displaced persons and 200 are orphans," Van Vactor revealed. "They've had an extremely hard row to hoe."
The detachment commander said that he thinks the children will reap long- and short-term benefits from this programme. An immediate benefit being that they can go and share this with their parents. "The long-term benefit is that as the children grow older, they can take this experience of what they've learned here with us and they will have a better perception of what SFOR is trying to do - not only by the Americans, but all nations," Rutkowski added.
"It lights up their faces, they're extremely happy and it just gives a good feeling to all of us that we are making a difference here."

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: US