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16 years and counting; Operation Holiday Spirit still going strong, helping Airmen in need

Staff Sgt. Ashley Osborn, right, a flight medic with the 137th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, receives a standing ovation on November 1 after sharing her story at the 16th annual Operation Holiday Spirit fundraiser at the Del City American Legion. Osborn received support from the organization three years ago when her son was hospitalized and diagnosed with meningitis. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Caleb Wanzer)

Staff Sgt. Ashley Osborn, right, a flight medic with the 137th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, receives a standing ovation on November 1 after sharing her story at the 16th annual Operation Holiday Spirit fundraiser at the Del City American Legion. Osborn received support from the organization three years ago when her son was hospitalized and diagnosed with meningitis. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Caleb Wanzer)

An Operation Holiday Spirit volunteer serves up a steak dinner on November 1 during the annual fundraiser at the Del City American Legion. OHS is a non-profit organization that raises support for local Reserve and Guard Airmen in need. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Caleb Wanzer)

An Operation Holiday Spirit volunteer serves up a steak dinner on November 1 during the annual fundraiser at the Del City American Legion. OHS is a non-profit organization that raises support for local Reserve and Guard Airmen in need. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Caleb Wanzer)

A local businessman announces a donation to Operation Holiday Spirit as organizer Joe Wade looks on November 1 at the Del City American Legion. OHS is a non-profit organization that raises support for local Reserve and Guard Airmen in need. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Caleb Wanzer)

A local businessman announces a donation to Operation Holiday Spirit as organizer Joe Wade looks on November 1 at the Del City American Legion. OHS is a non-profit organization that raises support for local Reserve and Guard Airmen in need. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Caleb Wanzer)

Adam Hawkins, a volunteer for Operation Holiday Spirit, watches the grill on November 1 while serving dinner to the more than 350 fundraiser attendees at the Del City American Legion. OHS is a non-profit organization that raises support for local Reserve and Guard Airmen in need. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Caleb Wanzer)

Adam Hawkins, a volunteer for Operation Holiday Spirit, watches the grill on November 1 while serving dinner to the more than 350 fundraiser attendees at the Del City American Legion. OHS is a non-profit organization that raises support for local Reserve and Guard Airmen in need. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Caleb Wanzer)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla --
In December 2011, Christmas gifts were the last thing on Ashley Osborn's mind. Her nine-month old son Devry had been hospitalized most of that year and was diagnosed with meningitis.

"At that time I was working at a hospital, so they were pretty understanding when I had to take care of my son," Osborn said. Despite her employer's flexibility, she wasn't getting paid for the time required to care for Devry.

Osborn, a flight medic with the 137th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, got a call from her first sergeant around the holidays to see how she was doing.

"I didn't know that it had to do with Operation Holiday Spirit," she said. "I thought he was just doing a wingman check. He just asked how the holidays were going to be. I told him I was trying to figure out how I was going to pay for all the medical bills."

It wasn't long after the call that Osborn received a Christmas card from OHS that held more than a season's greetings.

"My dad pretty much had to catch me from hitting the floor," Osborn said of when she opened the envelope. "I broke down into tears."

With the support she received from Holiday Spirit, Osborn was able to not only give her son gifts for Christmas but also pay for his medication and other medical bills.

"He had a very good Christmas for such a little boy," she said. "If OHS hadn't helped out, I was going to have to borrow from my family or take out a loan just to pay the bills."

Last month, Osborn stood before nearly 400 people at the 16th annual Operation Holiday Spirit fundraiser to share her story.

"Keep up the good work," Osborn said to the crowd. "OHS is an awesome program and there's a huge need for it in Airman's lives."
 
OHS supporters responded by donating a record-breaking $34,816 to the organization so far this year. The non-profit organization is helping at least 38 Guard and Reserve members in need this holiday season.

"Osborn is just one example of the many lives touched through Operation Holiday Spirit," said Lt. Col. Ralph Hawkins, the executive officer for the 513th Air Control Group based at Tinker Air Force Base.

Operation Holiday Spirit, founded in 1999, has helped more than 321 Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Airmen and their families by providing food and other necessities.

The organization began when Hawkins, then an executive officer at the 507th Air Refueling Wing also at Tinker, overheard co-workers talking about how to help an Airman in need.

"As a good executive officer, of course I eavesdropped in on the conversation taking place in the Senior Enlisted Advisor's office," Hawkins recounted during the dinner fundraiser. "I thought, 'there's got to be a way we can help this guy.'"

Hawkins and other reservists with the 507th put together a small steak dinner fundraiser and raised enough money to support a total of 18 local Airmen that first Christmas. Since its humble beginnings, Holiday Spirit has grown steadily to become an annual fundraiser attended by more than 300 people and helping more than 30 families a year.

"No one gets turned away," Hawkins said. "A committee looks at each request to decide how to split up the donations, but everyone who is nominated at least gets something."

Airmen in need are nominated by their first sergeant or commander, most of the time without the person's knowledge. The nomination process ensures that the donations go to the families who need it most.

"Some of the requests almost bring tears to my eyes," Hawkins said. "Some people have serious medical issues, job losses, or other things that make it difficult to provide for their children. I'm just glad we're there to help."

For more information or to donate, find Operation Holiday Spirit on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OperationHolidaySprit.