Making a difference in Michigan, one bottle at a time

  • Published
  • By Airman Michaela R. Slanchik
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
“We are more than just dropping bombs,” said U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class James Douglas, a 509th Maintenance Squadron (MXS) nondestructive inspection apprentice.

U.S. service members take an oath to lay down their lives for their country, ensuring the safety and freedom of America. Airmen commit to excellence, integrity and service before self for themselves, their wingmen and their communities.

“We are people with hearts, homes and families,” said Douglas.

After being made aware of the water problems in Flint, Michigan, in 2014, Douglas searched for a way to make a difference. However, Douglas knew this wasn’t something he could do on his own. He turned to his Air Force family to lend a hand.

“I have always wanted to do something to help since this issue has been brought to my attention,” said Douglas. “Living in southern California before I joined the military made it challenging to contribute in a capacity that would really make a difference. Now that I am stationed at Whiteman, I was too close not to help.”

That’s when Douglas teamed up with his wingman, Airman 1st Class Skylar Doeden, a 509th MXS metals technology journeyman, to do some behind-the-scenes work. The team then turned to their commander, Maj. Redahlia Person, the 509th MXS commander, for advice on how to broadcast the project and reach a larger audience.

After the entire squadron was involved, cases of water started to stack up. Drop-offs were made available at the Airmen and Family Readiness Center on Whiteman, Knob Noster City Hall and various squadrons on base. Airmen from the 509th MXS alone donated more than 50 cases and over $150.

Douglas also created an online donation event which generated more than $800.

Staff Sgt. Richard Fitzpatrick, a 509th MXS flight training monitor, and Doeden were key contributors in making the trek to Michigan. In fact, each are originally from about an hour from Flint. Senior Airman Matthew Martinez, a 509th MXS metals technology journeyman, also helped make the road trip possible.

On June 29, 2017, the four Airmen hit the road and 11 hours later they arrived in Plymouth, Michigan, where they made a stop to purchase more cases of water with the donations. After all was said and done, they headed to the YMCA in Flint with more than six pallets of water, one of which was donated by the water vendor.

“Seeing their faces light up with happiness was absolutely priceless,” said Doeden. “Simply knowing that all of the hard work was put to the best use imaginable. Helping out people in need made the 14-hour day well worth it.”

Altogether, the team donated around 16,000 bottles that were made available at the local YMCA to families in need. Most took one or two cases, meaning these Airmen impacted 500 to 600 families.

“This wouldn't have been as successful without my wingmen,” said Douglas. “It was a very overwhelming and satisfying feeling to be able to help.”

Douglas wasn’t the only one to feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in helping the citizens of Flint.

“I think being service members and helping any community, whether they are in need or not, is important in many aspects,” said Doeden. “We are sworn to support and defend the Constitution, but we don't feel that it only applies to that – but to the people of this country as well.”