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MacDill plays host to DEFY kids for sixth year Program aims to keep at-risk kids on the right path

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer

Hope may be the commodity best able to defeat the negative influences of the unsavory world of drugs and crime and for the sixth consecutive year, MacDill offered up hope for kids identified as being at the crossroads.

Some 24 kids identified as being at risk of falling under the influence of the less desirable elements of society, arrived on base last week as part of the Drug Education for Youth program. They spent the week getting a look at the Air Force way of life in phase one of a two-phase program - MacDill's contribution to DEFY, a program spearheaded by the Tampa Police Department and funded by the U.S. Department of Justice.

More than 15 MacDill members volunteered to participate in the program. Among them is John Fuleky, who heads Skills Development Center on base.

During their week at MacDill, the kids camp in air conditioned tents at the FamCamp and spend an eventful week touring the base and becoming familiar with Air Force operations. Some of the many activities included a tour of the Fire Department, visits to the Diner's Reef Dining Facility, tours of a KC-135 and a test flight from the seat of the KC-135 flight simulator.

The children also visited the Honor Guard, learning proper respect for the flag and the protocols for raising, lowering and folding the symbol of their country.

The idea is to expose the children to the positive lifestyle of those who live and work on base and a world very different from that offered by a life of drugs and crime.

"The hope is to have a positive impact on the kids and introduce them to new possibilities," said Fuleky.

Mary Ann Hunsberger, crime prevention organizer with the Tampa Police Department, said MacDill is an important part of the program.

"MacDill is a great partner and has left a lasting impression on these kids," she said, adding that the contributions don't stop at the end of the week. Several MacDill personnel, active duty and civilian, continue to participate in the program throughout the year, said Hunsberger.

For some of the kids, the best way to sum up the experience was with two words: "very cool."

Tyrell Williams, 10, said he was having a blast. His favorite stop was the flight simulator, where he got to play pilot. "That was the best ever," he said, adding that he liked camping in a tent at the Fam Camp on base. He did hear from someone that there are rattlesnakes on the base and he admitted he was a little worried about an encounter.

"I don't want to see one of those," he said.

Tashaylee Graddy, 12, said she hasn't seen any rattlesnakes, but she did run into a couple of raccoons. "This is a very nice place," she said, referring to MacDill. "It's very hot, but we like it out here."

Fuleky said staying on base and seeing the structure inherent to the military is useful for the kids.

"This structure helps the kids get ready for the future," said Fuleky, who notes while here the kids receive information about the pitfalls of wandering off the path and using illegal substances, including alcohol and tobacco.

Detective Paul Miller of the Tampa Police Department heads the program. MacDill's role is so important, he believes the program might not even be possible without its support.

"We get overwhelming cooperation from the base," said Miller. "There are so many people and elements here (at MacDill) that help out I am fearful I would leave someone out if I tried to name everyone."

Military involvement in DEFY dates to 1981, when the Navy became involved. Over the years other branches, including the Air Force joined in and MacDill became active in 1998.




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