Face of Defense: Sergeant’s Art Funds Surgeries for Needy Children

By Senior Airman Tabitha Kuykendall, USAF

Feb. 6, 2008 – Where most just see trash, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Robert Sommers, of 376th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron here, sees possibility. On any given day, the squadron’s noncommissioned officer in charge of operations management can be found sorting through leftover wood scraps and paints in his shop to create paintings and donate the proceeds to help pay for heart surgeries for children whose parents are unable to pay for the surgeries themselves.

 “Possibilities are endless; everybody has a talent and can use it to help others who are less fortunate,” Sommers said. “This is what I am trying to do.”  The Children’s Heart Ward is a facility that houses infants and children who need surgery to correct heart defects stemming from a combination of inherited genes and environmental factors, such as illness or mothers being exposed to chemicals during pregnancy.  

Two local doctors perform these surgeries free of charge. But an oxygenator — a disposable piece of equipment that serves as the lung during cardiac surgery and is designed to expose the blood to oxygen and remove carbon dioxide — is needed for each operation, and each costs $560.  

The Manas Air Base Outreach Society has addressed that need with its Children’s Heart Ward focus group. Airmen raise money to pay for the oxygenators and sometimes for other types of surgeries so more children can be assisted. Since the foundation stood up, 97 surgeries have been supported, most by covering the cost of an oxygenator.  During his five-month tour, Sommers’ donated proceeds have paid for three oxygenators.  

“There are many people in this world who by some circumstance are less fortunate than we are,” he said. “I viewed this tour as a possibility to help a few of these people.”

 Command Chief Master Sgt. Lisa Sirois, 376th Air Expeditionary Wing command chief, said Sommers embodies the spirit of service of today’s airmen.  “He epitomizes our Air Force core value of service before self,” she said. “Not only did he honorably serve our great Air Force here at Manas Air Base, but also he represented our enlisted corps extremely well to our Kyrgyz hosts.”  Sommers said it’s simply a matter of human nature to help others in need.  “It has really brought an incredible amount of joy to my heart to know that I could use a talent that the good Lord gave me to assist someone else,” he said. “There are ample opportunities for all of us to do the same. Use your talents to help someone else, and then you will be blessed. You’ll experience some of the best feelings of your life as you serve others in need.”  

(Air Force Senior Airman Tabitha Kuykendall serves with 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs.)

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