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Gold Star children reconnect with memories of lost loved ones

A little girl sits in a pilots seat.

Bella Cook, Hearts of Our Heroes attendee, uses a C-130J flight simulator at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, June 13, 2019. Cook got to experience flying over large, simulated stretches of Arkansas. The simulators are also used by students from 30 different countries. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rhett Isbell)

Children walk out onto a C-130J flight simulator.

(Left) Bella Cook, Courtney Woodham, and Brianna Brandon, Hearts of Our Heroes Camp attendees, walk onto a C-130J flight simulator at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, June 13, 2019. This was the first time the camp had partnered with the base to give Gold Star children a glimpse of the type of work their lost loved ones may have done while serving. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rhett Isbell)

Children pose for a photo.

Hearts of Our Heroes Camp attendees stand outside of a C-130J flight simulator at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, June 13, 2019. The Gold Star children were able to use the simulator to see what it would be like to be a U.S. Air Force pilot flying over the Arkansas countryside. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rhett Isbell)

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. --

A van rumbles down hot, summer pavement as children peer out at bedtime stories coming to life.

Stories centered around a parent serving a country they loved and their ultimate sacrifice to preserve the freedoms their children now enjoy. The children got this opportunity when Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, partnered up with Hearts of Our Heroes Camp to show Gold Star children different career fields and units on base to give them a glimpse of what their lost loved one might have done, while serving.

“It’s a week-long camp that they do,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Greg Bishop, 714th Training Squadron instructor loadmaster. “They get to spend the summer together, and the thing that they all have in common is that one of their family members was either killed in action or on duty.”

The tour marked the first time in four years the camp teamed up with base members to give the children an opportunity to experience military culture by meeting Airmen and seeing their career fields in action.

“For many of them, they lost that military connection when they lost their parents,” said Angela Beason, Hearts of Our Heroes Camp chaperone. “It gives them a chance to think about what the military’s like because none of them live near a military base or are directly involved with the military anymore. This kind of gives them a chance to see, with their own eyes, what their loved one did on a daily basis.”

One highlight of the day was visiting the aerial delivery flight as they rigged together the parachutes used to safely airdrop equipment and humanitarian aid to those on the ground. The campers experienced firsthand how Airmen are uniquely able to serve in the U.S. Air Force on a day-to-day basis, including sitting inside the dark of a C-130J flight simulator, illuminated only by the screens in front of them, as they learned how to pilot Team Little Rock’s trademark aircraft. The simulator is used by over 1,100 students who average about 39,000 flight hours annually.

“They got to learn about some tactics our Defenders use and the training loadmasters undergo,” Bishop said. “Then they got to do some hands-on learning using the simulator. I think that was the best part of the day for them.”

The children were able to connect directly with the military legacy their family members left behind and found memorable moments scattered throughout the tour, imparting a lasting impression of their loved one and a desire to return again next year.

“It’s gratifying on a whole other level to be able to help out during this,” Bishop said. “We were attempting to show them what the duties of these different entities on base are so they can derive a connection between them and their loved one. From what I saw, I think we succeeded, and I hope they come back next year.”

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