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<i> McChord’s Airmen make learning fun: </i> <b> Crew pilots C-17 to Montana, teaches children about science, technology </b>

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Airmen from a variety of squadrons volunteered to go to Montana May 10 to encourage children to study science and technology as part of Laurel Aviation and Technology Awareness Week.

Before landing their C-17 Globemaster III at Montana's Billings Logan Airport, the Airmen prepared themselves mentally to handle their audience.

"I can't wait to show everyone what we do," said Senior Airman Heriberto Chapa, 4th Airlift Squadron. 

"Once we land, we'll open up the plane. We'll show everyone how to open the doors, how everything works."

Shortly after, the plane landed and taxied to the spot where it was to be on static display.
After a few safety checks, the aircraft's loadmasters opened the cargo doors of the C-17 to show the students the aircraft was officially open to visitors.

The first crowd who came to the plane was small. That's because it was mostly the crew's family and friends.

"The [event] is sort of a small family reunion," said Capt. Jennifer Griswold, 446th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. 

"This [event] started when I was in the 8th grade. My [former] teacher Jack Bayne would contact all his old students who went to the [Air Force] Academy and ask them to bring their planes. Now, it's gotten to be so huge. Country kids love this stuff." 

The next wave of visitors to the plane was led by Roger Rock of Nashua, Mont., a retired teacher, mentor, bus driver and Navy public affairs officer.

Mr. Rock was chaperoning high school students who belonged to a technology organization at their school.

"I hope the kids will be a lot more aware of the opportunities available to them in terms of aviation," he said. 

"Some are interested in military careers. The greater variety of things we can expose them to, the better."

The children lined up to view every inch of the plane. They visited the cockpit. They took turns strapping themselves in the seats in the cargo bay.

"I'm very lucky to do this," said Holly Davidson, a 12-year old from Billings.

"I think it's cool how they set everything up. I've always wondered how you work a plane, and what it would be like to be in a plane."

One of the most unexpected parts of the tour occurred when the children began asking the Airmen to autograph everything from the shirts on their backs to event programs and scraps of paper.

"The attention was pretty wild and completely unexpected," said 2nd Lt. Aaron Klang, 62nd Operations Support Squadron, of the crew's instant celebrity status.

Capt. Kevin Griswold, 4th AS, however, wasn't so sure about the celebrity moniker.

"I don't know about being a celebrity," he said, "but it was kind of cool to see them respect me."

Aviators at other aircraft also took the attention in stride, using their newfound celebrity for good.

"I can't believe the energy and enthusiasm these kids have," said Tech. Sgt. Shawn Briggs of the Great Falls, Mont., Air National Guard. 

"The [event] has been 100-percent effective on them. We need this in Montana. It's a great inspiration for kids to see what's out there. You can teach them so much."

Navy Lt. Sara Stires, a weapons system officer from Lemoore Naval Air Station, Calif., shared a similar sentiment.

"It feels good to influence kids," she said. "I wanted to show the children that people from Montana can go on to do cool things with their lives like flying a cool F/A-18F Superhornet."