Ok, so Monday morning I wake up to go in with Zach to the base. He was scheduled for a flight and I was volunteering with Santa to the Villages - an OSA program to bring Christmas to the outlying villages of Kodiak. The presents had all been wrapped and organized into their proper locations - seven villages in all I believe - in the few weeks leading up to this and this was the day we got to distribute gifts to the children of Chiniak. You may be wondering how we got the gifts to the villages....well, Santa of course...only he arrived via helicopter with his elves in tow. I was one of the elves. That's right, I got to fly in a helo...not just any helo, but a 60, the same thing Zach flies. Zach wasn't allowed to be my pilot, but he was flying the other helo. We took two out there to carry all of us elves and the gifts. We had to get in flight suits and helmets and go through a brief about what to do in an emergency...basically if you see the flight mec running...run. lol
The flight to Chiniak was a short one. Chiniak is located on the main island and is accessible by road, but it just makes more of an impact for Santa to arrive on a helo. It was crazy taking off...we taxied down the runway and then we stopped...next thing I knew we were in a hover. It was the coolest thing ever! There are really no words to describe the feeling of being in a huge hunk of metal that according to the laws of physics really shouldn't be able to fly and hovering above the ground. It was thrilling!
We landed in the school's baseball field with the children and citizens of the village outside watching. There are 14 students at the school, but 18 kids 0-18 years that live in the community, so we give gifts to all of them. Santa was amazing! The kids loved him and he interacted with them the whole time, from the moment we arrived on scene to the moment we left. He played on the floor with the kids and sat with his arm around the "grandma" of the village talking to her. It was very impressive! The kids were so excited too. Some of the most amazing things happened with the gifts too. There was a girl, probably around 13 or so, who is definitely a tomboy. As soon as I saw her I thought, "Oh, no, I really hope she's not the one who got jewelry or bath stuff". What does she get? Walkie-talkies, which she LOVED! There were a couple of kindergarten girls (one black, one white) who both got babydolls with strollers. Just so happened that they got a black doll and a white doll respectively. The amazing thing about this is that no one KNEW these kids to know what to pick out from our pile for them. We didn't have a wish list for each one, we just have a slew of gifts for kids of various ages and figure out who gets what from there. We didn't know that the one girl was a tomboy...another neat thing about that is that we actually changed her gift last week. For some reason, it didn't "feel" right to any of us to give her bath stuff or jewelry. She was the only girl out of all the villages to recieve the walkie-talkies. We had 10 sets. And the dolls, we didn't know one was black and one white and you couldn't tell by their names either. Very cool experience. There was also a sweet young boy around the age of 13 or so who, when Santa gave him his gift, said, "Thank you, sir, I just hope I was good enough for this!" And then later, when he was putting together his gift (a wooden pinball machine) and I asked if he needed any help. He said, "No, but thank you for doing this [he motioned around the room], it really means a lot. I just hope I deserve this!" I told him that just by him asking, I knew he was good enough. Just makes me think that he probably gets told at home that he's not good, ya know? There were so many kids that I wish I had the time to tell you about all of them. There was a little boy about 9 months that was crawling around and loved Zach. He crawled across the gym to him and pulled himself up on Zach's leg. Very cute! There was only one little girl who was a little disappointed in her gift. Four year old Sienna said that she asked Santa for a kite, not a doll. By the time we left though, she had picked out a name for her new doll...Ashley. She said she wants her mom to have a real baby named Ashley. I told her mom and she laughed and said fat chance. Too funny. It was really neat that the entire community came out to the school for the day.
The kids were having a Christmas program that night and were sweet enough to sing us a small portion of a song. Ok, so it was more like yelling it, but it was cute nonetheless. We stayed and had lunch with the kids too. It was a sight to see just as many adults (more probably) as children sitting at the small lunch table eating the school lunch of pizza sticks, corn, apple and milk.
We took off again shortly after lunch and the pilots were nice enough to give us a tour around the island. They could have just taken us directly back to the base, but they flew around pretty much the whole island. I got to see things I've never been able to see before from the ground and places that you can't ever see from anywhere but the air. It was exhilerating! At one point I got tethered and sat in the doorway with the door open and flying around. CRAZY!!! It was really neat to see and experience just a portion of what Zach gets to do every day. I have always understood that he loves what he gets to do for a living, but I got a deeper sense of that during that day. I don't think the smile left my face the entire day. The pilots I flew with were laughing at me because I was giggly and giddy and just smiling the whole time. I saw one of their wives the next day and she said her husband told her that I was a trip and that he loved flying with me because I had so much fun. And I did....I had a GREAT time. In fact, as soon as we landed, I asked for another go round! They didn't let me though, I don't know why!
When we were flying around we saw a cross on top of a mountain that was placed there by the Russian Orthodox Church. The original was wooden, but that rotted and so a 60 lifted the specially made steel one to the top of the mountain and lowered it into the hole dug for it. Only it couldn't be called a cross...it is a "historical landmark". You know...the whole seperation between church and state thing. Sheesh...
They gave us one heck of a ride too. They were yankin' and bankin', pulling up, swerving one way, then another. Zach was following in the other helo and said that at one point we crested a mountain at about 40 feet. WOW!!! I think that was the same point that Kevin (one of the pilots) told us (there were 4 elves in the back) to look out the front if we could. We did and saw that we were headed straight for some mountains and going pretty fast. They kept getting closer and closer and all of a sudden he pulled up real quick and you should have heard us all scream! We were having a great time!
We also flew over our house. It was really neat looking at our neighborhood from the sky. I realized we are a lot closer to the water than I thought. I wish there were more ways to describe this experience, but there really isn't. Most of the time I am just speechless when people ask how it went...which for those of you who know me well, know is very rare. All I can seem to say is that it was the coolest thing that I've ever done. I really hope I get to do it again next year too!