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Operation Holiday Spirit a big success

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Oklahoma – Members of the 507th Air Refueling Wing, 513th Air Control Group and the 137th Air Refueling Wing, Oklahoma Air National Guard gather around the serving line picking steak dinner plates for the 14th annual Operation Holiday Spirit fund raiser.  This year’s event, held at the Del City American Legion was its biggest ever.  Three hundred eleven people came out to raise over $34,000 through organization donations and auction items.  The charity event is to help out Airman families in need.

Members of the 507th Air Refueling Wing, 513th Air Control Group and the 137th Air Refueling Wing, Air National Guard gather around the serving line picking steak dinner plates for the 14th annual Operation Holiday Spirit fund raiser. This year’s event, held at the Del City American Legion was its biggest ever. Three hundred eleven people came out to raise over $34,000 through organization donations and auction items. The charity event is to help out Airman families in need. (Photo by Senior Airman Caleb Wanzer)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- The Del City American Legion was alive with activity here Nov. 30, as Reserve and Guard Airmen raised over $34,000 for military families in need at the Operation Holiday Spirit (OHS) annual charity fund raiser.

This year marks the 14th year of Operation Holiday Spirit, where members of the 507th Air Refueling Wing, 513th Air Control Group and 137th Air Refueling Wing, Oklahoma Air National Guard, raise funds.

Operation Holiday Spirit started as a complete accident.

"I was eavesdropping on a conversation between a first sergeant and a family in need," said Lt. Col. Ralph Hawkins, 513th Air Control Group Executive Officer. "I shouldn't have been doing that, but that's what execs do," laughed Hawkins.

That conversation ignited a fire inside Hawkins that has led to hundreds of families receiving help during the holidays. "I just never dreamed we would still be doing it 14 years later," Hawkins said.

The plan for that first dinner was to have a steak dinner and donate the funds raised to some families that were identified by the various First Sergeants around the wing.

Hawkins, then the 507th Air Refueling Wing Executive Officer, used the break area in the Aircraft Maintenance Squadron to serve the 45 members that showed up.

The first OHS raised some $2,700 and helped 18 families. Last year, 310 people turned out for the steak supper and raised over $27,000 helping 61 families.

"This is growing more and more each year," said Hawkins. "I expect this year there will be more families and we are really going to be focused pretty hard ensuring the kids have a good Christmas."

The names of the families to receive OHS donations are not turned in until after the steak supper. The first sergeants take about a week or more to gather the nominations.

This year's steak supper really showed the generosity of members around Tinker and the 137th. This year's supper had 311 people in attendance. Money from the steak supper, auctions and silent auction items, raised over $34,000.

People were bidding on the silent auction items and screaming out for steaks as they were coming in from the grill.

There were several grills going outside the building with volunteers grilling the steaks to medium rare, medium well and well done. One of the "grill masters" this year was Senior Master Sgt. Larry DeSalle from the 137th Maintenance Squadron.

"It's great to be a part of this. We'll have all these grills going until everyone inside has been served," said DeSalle.

Hawkins also gave much praise to the level of involvement the Oklahoma Air National Guard. "We have seen more and more from them every year and I think it's a great partnership."

The evening capped off with the auction items. Hot items such as a Sam Bradford autographed St. Louis Rams football helmet really had the crowd going. Several people had spouses, not in attendance, on the phone as the bidding went higher and higher.

"We could not do this without all the people that help out, cooking, serving and planning," Hawkins said.

With this year's supper being the biggest ever and his retirement looming, Hawkins says he's really going to miss it, but he's going to keep coming back.

"The satisfaction of doing this and seeing the look on the recipients faces will keep me coming back as long as they will have me," he said.

Christmas for some Airmen will be a little brighter this year as the 507th ARW, 513th ACG and 137th ARW deliver their special brand of holiday spirit.