MOUNT HAGEN, Papua New Guinea —Though the official mission of Pacific Unity 14-8 is to construct two female dormitories for students at Togoba Secondary School in Papua New Guinea, Airmen deployed in support of the operation have found additional ways to give back to the community.
The team hosted a shoe drive Sept. 6, 2014, to benefit students at the school and children in the local village. A total of 264 pairs of shoes, 60 pairs of shorts and 36 t-shirts were purchased and donated in support of the effort.
Master Sgt. Jamain Braxton, the Pacific Air Forces Regional Training Center flight chief and the anti-terrorism officer for Pacific Unity 14-8 deployed from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, said the idea came to him during a visit to the local market.
“I’d been here about a week driving around and kept noticing some of the children walking around with no shoes on,” he said. “I love children; it was breaking my heart to see them barefoot. I felt like I had to do something so I ran the idea of buying a bunch of shoes for them out of my own pocket by my wife and the plan took off.”
Braxton, whose been in the Air Force 17 years, said he’s been deployed to many countries before, but felt a sense of obligation to act because of his close interactions with the community during Pacific Unity.
“This TDY is different because I’m more involved with the people here,” he said. “For this mission I’m engaged with the locals and more involved in their daily life.”
Initially, Braxton planned to foot the bill alone, but when other members of the Pacific Unity team found out about the initiative they were all in.
Airman 1st Class Jaimie Aquino, a 154th Civil Engineer Squadron emergency management journeyman deployed from the Hawaii Air National Guard 154th Wing, said she was just happy for the opportunity to give.
“It felt good knowing that I was giving to people who don’t have as much as we do,” she said. “To see all those kids without pants or shoes is so sad, so to give them something they didn’t have felt right.”
Children not able to fit or receive shoes were gifted with the items of clothing — an act Braxton said seemed to excite the parents even more than the children.
“Not many families can afford to get a pair of shoes for their kids, especially the ones that are not going to school,” said Anna Blake, a Togoba Secondary School deputy principal, who also helped arranged the drive.
Blake said for many of the children the donated shoes were their first pair.
“You could see it in their eyes they were really excited,” she said. “As a Rotarian this was my one great honor to be able to be involved with the U.S. Air Force and helping to see people in the surrounding community of the school benefit directly from this. They were really happy; they feel blessed.”
Not every child was able to receive a pair of shoes, but Braxton said that’s okay, the team extended their generosity to as many as they could — including the local vendors from whom the shoes were purchased.
“I know I won’t be able to help everyone here, but I just wanted to do what I could while I was here,” he said. “It was a little bit for me, but it goes such a long way for them.”