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Chaplain's Office Resurrects Young Heroes

March 1, 2014 --

In 1985, Sandra Priebe of Alpena, Mich., along with her cancer-stricken 12-year-old daughter visited the home of an Air Force officer. During their visit the young girl saw various medals, certificates, and awards on the Colonel's wall and asked a very honest question.

"He got all this for doing his job?" said the ailing girl. "Mom, what do I get?" Sandra's daughter died before she could be given a medal of courage for her fight with cancer.

Fortunately, the girl lived on through her mother's memories and Sandra formulated an idea to honor the courage of children with life threatening illnesses. The idea was proposed to the 127th Tactical Fighter Wing, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich. by the Candlelighters, a non-profit support group for families of young cancer victims. In 1990 the program was adopted by the 110th Tactical Air Support Group, now the 110th Airlift Wing, Battle Creek, Mich. A committee was established of military members of all ranks and career fields with the main objective to pay tribute to the courage and dignity of real life young heroes from the local community and around the state whose tremendous struggle might otherwise go unrecognized. The program has garnered excellent community relations throughout Michigan for the Michigan Air National Guard and at one point had 75 active members from the 110th.

The program has not been used for several years therefore the 110th Chaplain's Office is working to revive the outreach program and rebuild the team.

It's an amazing program and a great opportunity to give back to the community said Chaplain Greg Van Heukelom, the 110th Airlift Wing's senior Chaplain. The group is looking for volunteers to join and assist in efforts to spread the word around with the goal of finding eligible individuals for the awards.

"Our criteria for selection of children to receive medals are simple," said Van Heukelom. "The medal will be awarded to any minor showing great courage during treatment of a life threatening illness or injury. Our referrals will come from family members, doctors, nurses, social workers, and those in the best position to determine if the child should be designated a Young Hero."

Ceremonies will be conducted in hospitals, homes, churches, schools, and also on base, typically involving three individuals: a citation reader, award presenter, and photographer, in addition to the recipient, their family members and friends, and members of the Guard.

Individuals interested in joining the Young Heroes Committee should contact the base Chaplain's Office by phone at 269-375-6240 or email Chaplain Van Heukelom at gregory.vanheukelom@us.af.mil.