GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL STATION, Cuba –
The annual 12th Air Force morale mission dubbed as the "Cookie Caper" concluded here Dec. 14, as senior leadership delivered the last of more than 9,000 cookies donated to the troops for the holidays.
An HC-130 from the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., began the journey Dec. 11, making its way to Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras; the Netherlands Antilles; Puerto Rico and finally to the Naval base here. Each of the forward operating locations is within 12th Air Force and Air Force South's area of responsibility.
Along the way, aircrew from the DM-based 79th Rescue Squadron took the opportunity to complete flying training for some of its newest pilots and navigators.
"We did some nav-over-water training, and I conducted some (search and rescue) briefings with the Dutch Antilles," said Air Force Lt. Col. Dave MacKenzie, commander of the 79th RQS. "We're also checking out the AOR and trying to get more involved with 12th Air Force. I've been in for 21 years and I haven't been to these airfields before - different airfields and different approaches are always good for training and procedures."
At each stop, Air Force Brig. Gen. Joseph Mudd, 12th AF vice commander of 12th AF/AFSOUTH, and Chief Master Sgt. Wade Johnson, 12th AF Command Chief, thanked the troops for their service and invited them to partake in the extra calories.
"Being here with our Airmen during this time of year, when they are away from their families, is a priority for 12th Air Force," said the general. "We can never thank them enough for the great work they do here in the region."
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Rich Meyers, the administrative assistant for Chief Johnson, was one of the major planners for this event.
"This is a morale visit, and it shows 12th Air Force's appreciation," he said. "We had about 800 dozen cookies from 12th Air Force personnel and spouses, local businesses and the Commissary."
A good chunk of the cookies were donated by the Tucson community surrounding Davis-Monthan, with the help and coordination of the "DM-50," a group of local civic and business leaders who routinely support the air base there, according to Sergeant Meyers.
"Leadership plans an annual site visit to bring some holiday cheer to our Airmen, sister services and civilians serving at our forward operating locations," explained Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Rich Gallagher, the 474h Air Expeditionary Group superintendent.
Chief Gallagher went on to explain that in addition to the cookies, the crew also brought donated school supplies for local orphanages in Curacao where the servicemembers volunteer their off-duty time helping out and working with the children.
For Air Force Airman 1st Class James Short, an aviation resource manager deployed to Puerto Rico from Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., the cookies were a welcome taste of home.
"I enjoy it, and I think it means a lot. It feels good to know we're appreciated and it gives us a feeling of home," he said, noting that homemade chocolate chip cookies were his favorite.
For those without a sweet tooth, the mission also brought a treat for the funny bone. At Forward Operating Location Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles, the team picked up Comedian Scott Kennedy who is part of a current United Service Organizations tour entertaining the servicemembers deployed throughout the region during the holidays.
"The military guys are really appreciative that you take the time to do it," Mr. Kennedy said. "I think about you guys every day, and it reminds me you are out here keeping me safe so I can tell my jokes back home."
The comedian has performed throughout Iraq and Afghanistan 10 times during the past three years, and was also a guest of last year's "Cookie Caper" mission. During his show here Dec. 13, Mr. Kennedy talked about his tours of duty, with the most recent being a Thanksgiving show in Iraq.
"I think about you guys every day," he said before showing off his new tattoos covering his inner forearm - a Navy anchor, the Air Force symbol, a Marine Corps globe and anchor, and the "Army of One" logo. "It's because you guys are heroes. It's an honor to stand up in front of you guys and bring a little bit of home."
Also adorning the jokester's tatted tribute is the USO logo, the agency which got its start 66 years ago entertaining the troops during World War II. Mr. Kennedy said he hopes to visit the Middle East for about 10 days every month next year, continuing on USO traditions started by the likes of Bob Hope, John Wayne and Sammy Davis Jr.