EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska – The 168th Wing's holiday celebration was a little different this year, with masks and social distancing due to COVID-19, but it still brought joy to families.
Volunteers from different squadrons of the Alaska Air National Guard's 168th Wing built holiday scenes for children to celebrate as a part of a wing competition on Dec. 12.
Families drove through the winter wonderland display, and if the children's smiles and loud "thank-you's" heard through the car windows were any indication, it was a holiday hit.
"Sharing love in a time of need is important," said Capt. Anthony Robinson, 168th Communications Squadron commander.
As the holiday season began, members of the wing talked about how to keep the holiday spirit alive for the kids this year.
"We knew we would have to come up with a new way to celebrate," said Jason Dandurand, director of 168th Wing family readiness and programs. "The traditional holiday parties our military kids are used to around this time of the year were not an option with the gathering restrictions, but we still wanted to create lasting memories for the kids."
The wing traditionally celebrates the holidays with a pancake breakfast. In years past, the children of wing members play games, participate in crafts, visit Santa, enjoy treats, and have fun visiting with other kids who have parents in the military.
"My kids have been going to the breakfast party ever since we joined the unit in 2008," said Master Sgt. Shelley Lutrell. "My youngest was a newborn, and my oldest had the Santa spirit, so she always loved playing the games with Santa. Now she likes to volunteer and keep the spirit alive for her little sister. Last year my oldest daughter and her friends ran the cakewalk and had fun watching all the little ones try to stay on the spots."
The Airmen and family volunteers spend many hours ensuring details of the pancake breakfast are magical every year. They also enjoy getting to know people in different squadrons or units.
"The drive-thru event this year was smart given the circumstance," said Lutrell. "The team of volunteers found a way to find happiness and Christmas spirit even when the world is in a tough spot."
This year the volunteers competed building holiday scenes. "We still had the opportunity to get involved but in smaller groups," said Lutrell. "I think this was great for team building and a little wing competition. It was fun to see everyone go all out."
The volunteers built creative displays such as a Grinch sleigh, a flying KC-135 Stratotanker, life-size gingerbread, a live nativity scene, teddy bear world, Elf on the Shelf fun, all complete with dancing elves and twinkling lights everywhere.
"It was amazing to be able to help the kids and brighten their day in these different times we're in right now," said Staff Sgt. Donald Cronce of the 168th Communications Squadron.
Staff Sgt. Jake Vogel agreed. "It feels good to able to do something good for others. Everyone still gets to come out and help."
The fuels shop, security forces, communications squadron, recruiting office, civil engineering, and force support squadron took part in the friendly competition.
Senior Airman Colton Peet of 168th Security Forces quoted the character from Elf: "The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear." Peet volunteered and was dancing and singing on duty at his post during the drive-thru celebration.
"It was great with all that is going on," said Staff Sgt. Cameron Holt, security forces, and another volunteer elf. He referenced Aladdin: "Ain't never met an elf like me."
The holiday scenes were displayed in an extended garage, and the volunteers were comfortably warm as the temperatures were negative 20 degrees the morning of the event. Several families drove through the display and stopped at the end for a quick visit with Santa.