U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Rex Vanderwood, 376th Expeditionary Mission Support Group deputy commander, shakes the hand of a little boy after delivering humanitarian assistance items collected from stateside bases and friends to a family in Manas Village, Kyrgyzstan, March 18, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Carolyn Viss/released)
Deputy EMSG/CC receives hundreds of boxes for villagers

by Staff Sgt. Carolyn Viss
376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

3/24/2010 - TRANSIT CENTER AT MANAS, Kyrgyzstan -- Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.

"Please don't send me any care packages," Lt. Col. Rex Vanderwood wrote home from Kyrgyzstan. "If you want to send something, send things that will help the local villagers."

He's been deployed to the Transit Center at Manas from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, where he also served as the deputy mission support group commander. Since his arrival here in early January, he's taken an interest in the winter "Warm and Dry Campaign" to get the local community clothes they need to survive the harsh winters.

Little did he know how much aid would soon be on its way.

From Germany to North Carolina, Utah, Washington, and three quarters of the way around the world to Honolulu, word of his request spread from his immediate family to his extended family, his former duty stations, and several churches.

"All you have to do is get the clothing together," he instructed. "I'll pay for the shipping."
More than 200 boxes and huge shipping fees later, his office is stacked so high his coworkers call it "Fort Vanderwood," although he is getting out as much as possible to distribute the goods.

"I'm overwhelmed with the generosity," he said. "The humanitarian assistance effort is huge at Manas, and this is not the only endeavor. People are not only donating things they receive from home, but officers, the Top 3, the First 4, the 5/6 Club, and the Manas Area Benefit Outreach Society regularly contribute to the comprehensive Warm and Dry Campaign."

Primarily the 376th EMSG deputy commander here, Colonel Vanderwood is also the "Mayor." He wears a Broussard on his arm so that he is clearly identifiable when he ventures around the Transit Center. Because of his title, he was able to meet on the same level with the mayors of several villages last week to identify the poorest families who would best benefit from the coats, hats, sweaters, gloves, boots, and scarves. Then he set about making deliveries, bringing a few Airmen from the installation with him each time so that they could see the community just outside the gates.

"These are people in circumstances of true hardship," Colonel Vanderwood said. "In some cases, the husband or wife had passed away or were unemployed, and several families had a bunch of kids. One had a 21-year-old boy with cerebral palsy who couldn't speak and was immobile. In several homes, there were multiple families living under one roof."

Some homes were erected of bricks made of mud, straw or clay.

"It's truly humbling to see," the mayor said. "I've visited more than 40 countries in my lifetime, and I haven't seen living conditions like this since I've been in certain parts of Africa."

Taking on such a huge project in addition to his already more than full schedule of official duties, Colonel Vanderwood doesn't blink an eye when it comes to working extra hours and traveling long distances to ensure people in villages up to two hours away can benefit from this humanitarian assistance.

"We are so richly blessed," he said, citing a Bible scripture as his reason for wishing to do so much for the people of Kyrgyzstan. "Because I have been given much, I too must give."