by Staff Sgt. Luis Loza Gutierrez
319th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
7/17/2014 - GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D -- The Warriors of the North and local Legionnaires pulled together to pull pop tabs off tens of thousands of cans to support programs that improve the lives of families with children needing medical attention.
Air Force Sergeants Association Chapter 964 here and members of the American Legion Post #6 in the city of Grand Forks, N.D., collected a total of 68,003 pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald House in Bismarck, N.D.
"This joint effort by the local chapter of the Air Force Sergeants Association and the American Legion not only shows the strong relationships between Grand Forks Air Force Base and the communities of North Dakota, but also serves as a testament to the dedication of selfless efforts of veterans, past and present, who strive to live up to the Air Force core value of service before self," said Robert Greene, American Legion Post #6 commander, who proposed the idea for the joint fundraiser during a monthly AFSA meeting in October of 2013.
Greene, a retired Air Force senior master sergeant, explained that the Ronald McDonald House is a non-profit organization that provides a place to stay for families with hospitalized children who are receiving treatment. Families either stay at no cost or are asked to make a donation up to $25 per day, depending on the house.
The RMHC Pop Tab Collection Program allows individuals and organizations to collect soda pop tabs from aluminum cans and donate them to a Ronald McDonald House Charity Chapter or Ronald McDonald House. Although programs may be slightly different from one to another, for the most part, RMHC chapters use the money received from recycling the tabs to help offset operational expenses or to sponsor or support programs.
According to American Legion Department of North Dakota representative Harvey Peterson, who coordinated the official tally, the Legionnaires collected 17,216 tabs, while Chapter 964 collected more than 80 percent of combined total with 50,787.
Leading the drive for the local AFSA chapter was Master Sgt. Russell Heinz, who was quick to credit others for the success of the fundraiser.
"Technical Sergeant Jared Langenstein, our chapter president, and our council have made it the norm to welcome ideas on how to support the community," said Heinz. "Our AFSA meetings provide a great opportunity to present ideas like the one Mr. Greene proposed for this fundraiser. I'm just very humbled to have been part of it."
The senior NCO continued to credit others for the project he and Greene coordinated for almost eight-months.
"None of this would have been possible without the generosity of our volunteers," said Heinz. "Some of our volunteers showed such great desire to help, that we even had pop tabs brought in from other states."
One Airman, who preferred to remain anonymous, collected more than 1,500 pop tabs by reaching out to relatives and friends in his home state of Texas.
"He was even able to collect more than 200 pop tabs in one night," said Heinz. "This person walked up to dozens of tables with strangers and asked they would be kind enough to donate their pop tabs before discarding their aluminum cans during the 2014 Super Bowl Extravaganza, which draws a huge crowd every year because it's the largest fundraiser on base."
Heinz recalled the very same Airman later collected a little more than 100 pop tabs at another base function.
In addition to individual efforts like the one previously described, there were several other collection by groups worth mentioning, said Heinz.
"Twining Elementary, [a public school on Grand Forks AFB], was one of our biggest contributors," said Heinz. "I think we ended up getting a little more than two four-gallon containers filled with pop tabs from them alone. That's thousands of tabs in each one of those container. When you think about it you realize that all those pop tabs probably mean that Dr. [Mary] Koopman [principal at Twining] and the school staff are doing an excellent job in teaching their students about the importance of volunteerism and community service."
Heinz continued by thanking other local military organizations on base for their support.
"My unit [the 69th Reconnaissance Group] allowed me to set up collection points around different sections and some of my fellow 'Northern Hawks' helped me carry the pop tabs to Mr. Greene's vehicle, while others helped by reminding coworkers to drop their pop tabs into containers at the different collection points," said Heinz.
The Grand Forks Air Force Base Honor Guard was another of organizations Heinz praised for their contribution.
"I estimate the base guard contributed a little more than 1,200 tabs," said Heinz. "That may not seem like a lot, but when you consider that their active roster is usually a dozen or so people, 1,200 pop tabs is a decent amount if you divide it up by each member...They began contributing from the very beginning and turned in pop tabs at almost each of the monthly AFSA meetings."
Staff Sgt. Alexandra Crawley, the base Honor Guard program manager, shared a few words about her motivation and experience in participating in the pop tab collection.
"It was a piece of cake," said Crawley. "I think this is one the simplest things that anyone or any organization can do to help sick children and their families.
"Just having your loved ones physically present may help that innocent child make an easier recovery," said Crawley. "So I would say to those people that every little bit counts, and I would encourage them to be more compassionate and adopt the motto of 'save a pop tab to save a life.'"
According to RMHC executive director in Bismarck, Kathie Keiser, the Ronald McDonald House in the state's capital helped 206 families in 2013.
It's a number she thinks may be surpassed this year due to the population increase because of the oil boom in the northwestern part of the state.
The projections of more families in need had no negative effect on the Keiser, who didn't hesitate to express her organization's appreciation for the good news.
"We are so excited and so thankful for the selfless work by the American Legion and the wonderful community of Grand Forks Air Force Base," said Keiser. "All those pop tabs will certainly allow us to raise funds for our charitable programs and continue to make a positive difference for so many families."
Keiser added that the news of the donation proved even more delightful given that the RMH in Bismarck will celebrate its 22nd anniversary on July 18.
The donation gives us more incentive to celebrate our house's birthday, said Keiser.
This is not the first time a fundraiser of this kind has taken place.
"This is the second year in a row Post 6 and AFSA have partnered up to help the Ronald McDonald House," said Greene. "Last year's total was 53,140 tabs. This year we surpassed that mark by almost 15,000."
Greene and Heinz said given the success of the past two years, both remain very optimistic about the Warriors of the North once again partnering with the Post 6 Legionnaires for another pop tab collection.
When Heinz was informed that some Airmen such as those in the base honor guard were already collecting pop tabs, he said he wasn't very surprised and that, "it's pretty much a standard in Air Force culture to keep doing the right thing."