Joint Base Cape Cod Welcomes Latham Centers Students to be ‘Airmen for a Day’

  • Published
  • By Mr. Timothy Sandland
  • 102nd Intelligence Wing

Massachusetts National Guard Airmen and Soldiers, firefighters from the Joint Base Cape Cod Fire Department and troopers from the Massachusetts State Police joined forces to welcome 40 students of Latham Centers for an “Airman for a Day” event held at Otis Air National Guard Base, on Oct. 11, 2023.

The event brought a fleet of vehicles and other equipment together that provided a tactile experience for the students. Representatives from the various organizations spoke to the students while they were able to observe, touch and even sit in everything from a fire truck to a Blackhawk military helicopter.

“It has been a great morning out here with students from Latham Centers right here on Cape Cod – lots of neat things for them to do,” said Col. Sean Riley, 102nd Intelligence Wing Commander.  “They were able to check out an Army helicopter, fire apparatus from Joint Base Cape Cod Fire Department as well as many vehicle displays from the 102nd Intelligence Wing Security Forces, Environmental Management as well as our Civil Engineer Squadron.”

The visiting students were as young as 12, many with Prader-Willi Syndrome. Founded in 1970, Latham Centers is a progressive and innovative provider of services for children and adults with developmental, behavioral, and emotional/physical challenges. A private non-profit agency, Latham operates a residential school for children in Brewster and some 12 residences for adults across Cape Cod and southeastern Massachusetts.

“As an educator these opportunities to make memories for our students are so special and will be able to touch on so many life lessons,” said Jeffrey Lee, M.Ed. Special Education Teacher at Latham Centers. “We all love to support our military and the chance to see what they do every day is something that the students will not soon forget.”

According to Latham Centers’ website, Prader-Willi Syndrome is a complex genetic disorder that manifests with intellectual and development delays, and a variety of symptoms including an insatiable appetite, the health implications of which can be serious.

This syndrome involving abnormalities of chromosome 15 occurs approximately 1 in 18,000 births and is found in all races and ethnic groups. In some cases, PWS can also be acquired by head trauma. Among the more serious symptoms are mild to moderate developmental disabilities, emotional and behavioral problems, obsessive-compulsive behaviors such as skin picking, and slow body metabolism, which can lead to obesity and related health problems.

The logistics of bringing a day like this together was challenging but a worthy effort according to Senior Master Sgt. Victoria Kenny, who organized the event.

“There was a lot of coordination that went into holding an event like this. I had to send in special requests for the vehicles, aircraft and displays,” she said.  “I am [working on] my bachelor’s degree in social work and upon retirement from the military I’d like to work with special needs adults. To be able to have the opportunity to plan and execute a large-scale event like today for that population meant a lot to me.”

Opportunities to relate with our local community are important. Interacting with the community allows for the breaking down of barriers and building an environment of mutual respect creating strong bonds between our communities. Events like this are also an opportunity to give back to the community that many of our service members live in and owe so much.

“The Army National Guard always welcomes opportunities to connect with our community, fostering understanding of our mission and building community trust,” said Kathleen Kolva, Community Relations Specialist for Camp Edwards. “This event provided an equally important outcome – joy! This was clear by the smiles of students, staff, and exhibitors. The enthusiasm of the Latham Center students was contagious, and we so appreciate them visiting Joint Base Cape Cod.” 

At the end of the day, there were smiles all around – on the faces of the students, their teachers and facilitators, JBCC leaders and organizers and the subject matter experts that directly interacted with our visitors – not a frown could be found.

“On behalf of all the students and staff at Latham Centers we send a huge thank you to the members of the Air National Guard for being such wonderful hosts,” said Jeffrey Lee. “All our students love the opportunity to interact with these local heroes. One student even stated on the way back to school following the visit that this ‘was the best day of my life.’ “