Nancy Conley checks the identification card of Trainee Rachel Cirell before Glen Johnson, a repeat adopter during Operation Homecooking, can take Trainees Cirell and Britany Williamson home for Thanksgiving dinner. The trainees are assigned to the 320th Training Squadron, Flight 058. Mr. Johnson has hosted trainees for 15 years. (USAF photo by Robbin Cresswell)
Air Force Trainees Ublabo Barraza, left, and Keno Enriquez have a choice of pumpkin, apple and pecan pies during Thanksgiving dinner at Master Sgt. Tammi and Tech. Sgt. Roy Barnett's home in San Antonio, Texas. The trainees are assigned to the 331st Training Squadron, Flight 065. Sergeant Tammi Barnett works in the 340th Flying Training Group at Randolph AFB. Sergeant Roy Barnett is assigned to the Air Force Personnel Center at Randolph AFB. (USAF photo by Robbin Cresswell)
Trainee Michael Nieman, 320th Training Squadron, gets a personal tour of Engine 19 at fire station 19 on Vance Jackson Road by firefighter Joe Brown. Trainee Nieman was one of 20 basic trainees adopted by 10 area fire stations on Thanksgiving Day as part of Operation Homecooking. (USAF photo by Alan Boedeker)
by April Blumer
37th Training Wing Public Affairs Office
11/25/2007 - LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, TEXAS -- Basic trainees traded their dorm rooms for family rooms Thanksgiving Day as more than 1,300 local families arrived at Lackland AFB to adopt some of the newest members of the Air Force for the day.
"I feel badly for the trainees because they don't have family around for the holidays. I'm in the military, too, so I know how it feels," said repeat hostess Master Sgt. Tammi Barnett from the 340th Flying Training Group at Randolph AFB, Texas.
The Deming, New Mexico, native and her husband, Roy, have opened their home to basic trainees for six years now, making Operation Homecooking part of their Thanksgiving tradition.
Wrapping up its 32nd successful year, Operation Homecooking provides families within a 30-mile radius of Lackland AFB the opportunity to share traditional Thanksgiving celebrations with Air Force basic trainees in their third through sixth week of training, as well as a handful of technical school students.
"I am so blessed and thankful for the Barnetts for accepting us into their home," said Trainee Keno Enriquez from Cavice, Philippines, who is in his third week of training with the 331st Training Squadron. "We are strangers. They didn't know us, but they told us to relax and feel at home."
Trainee Enriquez, who came to the U.S. seven months ago, is still learning English and American traditions.
"I'm happy because the food here is so good. I had to ask names of most of the foods," said the 19-year-old trainee.
The benefits of Operation Homecooking extend beyond the trainees getting a chance to refresh their minds and bodies. It gives the trainees a chance to serve as ambassadors for the Air Force.
Trainee Zack Johnson, from the 324th Training Squadron assigned to the Illinois Air National Guard, was one of 20 Airmen adopted by 10 San Antonio fire departments. The trainees sponsored by the fire departments either have guaranteed fire protection jobs waiting at the end of technical school or had expressed interest in becoming fire fighters.
"We're trying to do our part this Thanksgiving by giving a little back in return for the commitment these Airmen have made," said Valentino Cascaneda, the acting Lieutenant at San Antonio's Fire Station 12.
"We want them to take a little break from training, so no exercising and no drills. They did offer to do push-ups for us though," said the lieutenant between rounds of pingpong with the two trainees from the 324th Training Squadron.
For security purposes, trainees are sponsored in pairs.
"It's a little weird, watching football and playing pingpong," said Trainee Johnson, scheduled to graduate from basic training Nov. 30. "But it's been a great thing to look forward to. All last week we were looking forward to this time away."
To ensure the Airmen return to base safely, host families are screened and must agree to ground rules. Host families are not allowed to take the trainees to certain businesses and must have permission to travel outside of Loop 1604. Additionally, families must return trainees to Lackland by a designated time.
All trainees returned to base without incident.
"We will definitely do this again next year," said Sergeant Barnett. "We enjoy doing this for the trainees."