TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
Thirty one years later, Operation Teddy bear still giving to the children
By Ellen Hatfield
349th AMW public affairs
In December of 1984, I was a 31 year old new mother, five months out of the Air Force. My husband was an Air Force law enforcement specialist at RAF Chicksands, United Kingdom, and we were excited about our first Christmas with our child.
A world away, at Travis Air Force Base, California, a group of dedicated Airmen from the 349th Air Mobility Wing were launching their first “Operation Teddy bear,” about to bring that same excitement to kindergarten and pre-kindergarten classes in local Solano County schools. Like tree seedlings, a good idea took root and grew, remaining strong for 31 years.
Organized by the 349th Medical Group with support from the 349th Maintenance Group “elves,” OTB, as it is known, goes into local schools bearing gift bags with school supplies, goodies and a Teddy bear, for small children whose holidays might not be so merry and bright. I missed the last two years as I was out of town for the holidays. I felt like I was on Santa’s naughty list, I was so sad.
I happily joined the group at Cleo Gordon Elementary School in Fairfield. Chief Master Sgt. Antonio Cordes, 349th Maintenance Squadron, quizzed the children on the American flag before the Travis Honor Guard presented a flag folding ceremony, to cheers and energetic applause.
The minute I heard a booming voice behind me say, “Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas children!” I was as excited as they. I laughed as they forgot to sit still and be quiet, and in a little rush, several threw their little arms around the jolly fat man in the red suit, a well-padded Senior Master Sgt. Daniel Willson, unrecognizable behind his huge white beard.
Sitting on Santa’s lap, leaning close to whisper gift secrets in his ear, every child thanked him for their gift with a smile. Again, he got spontaneous hugs, and many ran back to wish him a Merry Christmas.
Through the dedicated efforts of Travis Airmen, volunteers that sometimes include retirees and family members, and the support of caring communities, local children have a brighter holiday, and a cuddly new friend to share it with.