Fairchild spouse, SERE specialists teach young survivors

  • Published
  • By Dowry Thomas
  • Fairchild Spouse
A year ago, my husband, Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialist, Senior Airman Cory Thomas, and I were introduced to a woman of inspiration.

Marilyn Taylor and I are both breast cancer survivors. This common bond would soon lead to a unique mission both for my husband and me.

Marilyn wasted little time in sharing her philosophy: our ill fortunes for some can be turned into experiences used to make a positive and powerful impact on others. This passion for others quickly rubbed off.

Marilyn is the program director and activity planner for Camp Goodtimes East. Since 1985, the camp has hosted a week-long getaway for children ranging from ages 5 to 17 who have faced extreme hardship throughout their young lives.

Most of these "qualified" campers have been diagnosed with cancer and are either on active therapy, have completed cancer therapy, had stem cell transplantation or bone marrow transplants. Camp Goodtimes gives these extraordinary children time to forget about their illness, treatments, hospital visits and hardships they, along with their families, face every single day.

Marilyn inquired about the possibility of SERE volunteers coming out to the camp to introduce the basic needs of survival to the children.

Thinking of those young, strong-willed warriors fighting with all their being to live a normal life, the decision was easy. I not only sympathize with them, but feel motivated by their passion and hunger to make the most out of every minute of every day. That being said, my husband and Staff Sgt. Craig Rockhold, 22nd Training Squadron SERE specialist, embarked on what they considered to be a life changing event for the attendees of Camp Goodtimes East.

Little did they know how this experience would be life changing for themselves.

During camp, the two SERE specialists held 45-minute sessions teaching the five basic needs of survival: medical, personal protection (fire, shelter, clothing and equipment), sustenance (food and water), signaling and recovery. They then engaged the campers by turning the lessons around and asking a few questions pertaining to survival.

How long can you survive without food? How do you start a fire without matches or a lighter? How can you utilize the sun as a navigational tool?

Much to my dismay, my husband added a prize incentive to the final question: the child with the correct answer could use MY face as a canvas to paint on!

Looking at him like he was crazy, I suddenly remembered why I was there. It was ok I felt a little out of my comfort zone, as I knew these children have had many days and nights with those same feelings on a much larger scale.

Cory proceeded to ask, "How long can you survive without water?" A young 8 year old boy shouted "3 days!" He was right. Shortly after, I had this young 8 year old two feet from my face with a mile wide smile, his small shirt telling me his story, "Happy Birthday Survivor!"

Without a care in the world, he proceeded to paint my face as if he was Vincent Van Gogh painting the famed Starry Night with not a care in the world. It was as if he had forgot about the pain he was in and knowing I had helped in that process filled my heart with love.

Along with the help of several close friends, we designed shirts for these inspirational children, which we gifted to them at the end of camp. The shirts read, "For the Survival in us All, I Learned how to Survive the World While Striving to Survive Life." Our hope is when these children think of the term "survival" they may think of the wonderful experiences they had at Camp Goodtimes East, instead of a life long struggle.

The shirts were made possible by way of generous donations exceeding $900, making it possible to give each camper something to remember us by.

It was a small token compared to the memories they created for us. We are thankful for the support of our SERE family.

We are humbled, honored and proud to an
nounce we have been asked back to Camp Goodtimes East next year. Not only would they like for us to teach survival skills but we have been given the opportunity to actively participate in the Camp as counselors for the children for the duration of their stay which is approximately one week.

Gratification is an understatement when describing the feeling of watching effortless smiles as the entire group of children looked up to Thomas and Rockhold as real life heroes.

After this experience, we encourage you all to take a step back and realize the blessings in your own life while realizing that at the same time, many people are experiencing hardships we couldn't possibly understand.

Spokane and the surrounding communities strongly support the Fairchild mission and this is another small way we can demonstrate what the Air Force is all about. Whether you give a monetary donation, a hug or simply your attentions to someone in need, never underestimate the power of love and support, for without that, survival would be impossible.