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Operation Holiday Spirit: Helping our own

Members of the 507th Air Refueling Wing, 513th Air Control Group and Oklahoma Air National Guard, 137th Special Operations Wing participate in this year’s Operation Holiday Spirit, Nov. 5, 2016. The Operation Holiday Spirit dinner is expected to reach over $35,000 to support guard and Reserve Airmen in need this year. (U.S. Air Force photo/Maj. Jon Quinlan)

Members of the 507th Air Refueling Wing, 513th Air Control Group and Oklahoma Air National Guard, 137th Special Operations Wing participate in this year’s Operation Holiday Spirit, Nov. 5, 2016. The Operation Holiday Spirit dinner is expected to reach over $35,000 to support guard and Reserve Airmen in need this year. (U.S. Air Force photo/Maj. Jon Quinlan)

A member of the Oklahoma Air National Guard, 137th Special Operations Wing, tells a personal story about the impact of Operation Holiday Spirit on her life Nov. 5, 2016, at the VFW in Del City, Okla. Operation Holiday Spirit is expected to reach over $35,000 to support guard and Reserve Airmen in need this year. (U.S. Air Force photo/Maj. Jon Quinlan)

A member of the Oklahoma Air National Guard, 137th Special Operations Wing, tells a personal story about the impact of Operation Holiday Spirit on her life Nov. 5, 2016, at the VFW in Del City, Okla. Operation Holiday Spirit is expected to reach over $35,000 to support guard and Reserve Airmen in need this year. (U.S. Air Force photo/Maj. Jon Quinlan)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Operation Holiday Spirit’s 18th annual celebration took place Nov. 5, with attendees enjoying a traditional steak dinner--cooked and served by our own 1st Sgts.--before jumping into the excitement of fundraising bidding wars and raffle prize selections.

OHS is an auction that raises funds for Reservists within the 507th Air Refueling Wing who may need a little extra financial support during the holiday season. First time attendee, Staff Sgt. Karen Zuest, 507th Force Support Squadron knowledge operations manager, was impressed with the event.

“The meal and the company were good, and it’s a good cause to support every year,” said Zuest. “All night we got to mingle with friends and meet people for the first time, so it was a great networking and morale-building opportunity made even better because we’re all there for the same reason."

Since 1999, the joint effort of the 513th Air Control Group, along with the 507th ARW and Oklahoma Air National Guard 137th Special Operations Wing, has attracted an overall total of 3,452 attendees and raised an impressive dollar amount in donations.

“Not counting this year, donations total more than $285,000 and have helped more than 402 families in the past 18 years,” said Lt. Col. Ralph Hawkins, 513th Air Control Group executive officer and lead organizer of OHS. “We’re still waiting on a total dollar number for donations, but we anticipate more than $35,000 in donations from our fellow Reservists this holiday season.”

 In addition to the auction donations, Zuest enjoyed building new relationships.

“It was really cool to see the Reserve and Guard work together to make a positive difference in people’s lives,” said Zuest. “I think I’ll go every year if I can. I loved it, and I’ll encourage anyone I meet to go.”

 Like many others, Zuest knows someone who has been helped during a time of need by donations from OHS.

 “I actually have a friend that benefitted from this,” said Zuest. “Her son was really sick, and she couldn’t afford the doctor bills on top of trying to pay regular bills—let alone trying to buy gifts for her son. The event organizers really came through with the holiday spirit in a donation that saved her. It’s an awesome thing and to have known someone who has benefitted from it made it even more cool.”