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Home / Newsdesk / Media Coverage / Vandenberg annual event benefits Operation Kids Christmas
Vandenberg annual event benefits Operation Kids Christmas Print E-mail PDF Rocketry Planet Newsdesk RSS Feed
Texas Blowout raises funds
Media Article by Darrell D. Mobley   
Sunday, August 07, 2011

ImageVANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, California USA — It's not often Lt. Col. Eric Kolb can bask in the glory of winning an award for style following a rocket launch.

But the leader of the normally tight-lipped National Reconnaissance Office at Vandenberg Air Force Base celebrated with his team after their low-tech payload sailed downrange in a cow chip-throwing contest Friday afternoon during the 23rd Annual Texas Blowout.

While other contestants employed old-fashioned muscle power to make their tosses, Kolb's team was among a handful that got creative. While sporting safety goggles, Kolb was armed with a hand-held contraption powered by a model rocket engine that hissed as it sent the payload sailing across the park.

"We went simple this year," he said.

The nation's spy-satellite agency completed a string of six launches from Vandenberg and Florida earlier this year. Kolb happily added Friday's launch as the unofficial number seven.

"We consider this part of that same campaign," he said with a smile.

Texas Blowout is the biggest fundraiser for Operation Kids Christmas, a holiday party held for more than 50 years. Approximately 200 youths from the Santa Maria, Lompoc and Santa Ynez valleys are brought on base for a party each December and go home with huge bag of gifts, a food basket for their family's holiday meal and a lifetime of memories.

Along with a barbecue, bounce houses, games, music and auctions, the Texas Blowout on Friday also included a dunk tank, where Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, served as the first target. Decked out in blue and white swim trunks and Santa hat, Boltz had no shortage of volunteers as his own children happily ponied up the money for a chance to dunk dad.

Lt. Col. Mike Kamorski, commander of the 392nd Training Squadron whose members organized the fundraiser, volunteered for the holiday party during a previous assignment at Vandenberg.

"As many times as you see it, every time you see it, it's like you're seeing it for the first time .... ," he said of Operation Kids Christmas. "Those kids, they're just so excited. It's amazing."

The fundraiser also provides a lesson for the military students.

"In addition to learning how to be great missileers, space operators and space maintainers we're also teaching them to give back to the community — core values, service, excellence, integrity. They're going to see all that here too by volunteering and helping out here as well. That's a great second lesson for the students," Kamorski said.

Along with organizing the event, 392nd Training Squadron members had one other important task. For his second Texas Blowout as commander, Kamorski was banking on his students crafting a contraption that made his cow-chip entry fly forward, not backward as it did last year.

He put the call out to students to devise a device, only seeing it Friday morning.

"That's the trust I put in my students, whether it's operating a nuclear weapon system or to build me a cow pie launcher," he said. "If you give them orders and step back you'll be surprised at their excellence."

This year, their entry flew, although not far enough. After the competition, organizers announced that the other winners were 30th Mission Support Group for Best in Show and the 533rd Training Squadron for farthest throw after sending the payload more than 105 feet.

For their efforts, NRO received an award for best throwing style. But they already have their eyes on grabbing the top prize for longest distance in 2012.

"We thought we had it this year," Kolb said, adding just minutes after the contest ended that his staff was already thinking up improvements for next year's entry.

Other entries included a giant cow-chip lollipop, a huge slingshot and a water-propelled contraption. Few entries generated gasps of delight. Most tosses elicited groans from spectators as the cow chips failed to travel far or their "satellites" broke into pieces during flight.

"There's a lot of things I want to be known for next week when I retire," Chief Master Sgt. James A. MacKinley, command chief for 14th Air Force, said after his less-than-stellar toss. "That's not one of them."

Copyright © 2001, Santa Maria Times.

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