Disabled Children Get Early Holiday Treat

Article excerpt

Christmas came a little early and in a very unusual manner for a group of children gathered at the Eau Claire Municipal Airport in Wisconsin last fall. When Santa arrived he was on a motorcycle instead of a sled.

For two years now, Army and Air Force Reservists, along with Ameritech employees, have made it possible for Santa and his wife to spread some cheer in an unique way to some handicapped children by transporting them to the "North Pole," said Gloria Grabowski, the Ameritech employee who started the idea.

The event, dubbed Operation Santa, was started to help disabled kids have a better Christmas, said Grabowski. The children are loaded into a C 130, 'flown' to the North Pole to visit Santa and his elves and receive presents, then loaded back into the C130 to fly home.

"These children have limitations because of accessibility," said Grabowski. "Having a cargo plane that folds down in the back enables us to bring some fun into these kids' lives. It's a Godsend."

"I thought it was a pretty weird request at first" said Army Reservist Chief Warrant Officer James Lowe, 397th Engineering Battalion, who helped Grabowski get the vehicles for the event. "We lend two HUMVEEs, with soldiers in each one, a C130 from the Air Force, LD. tags, and two-way radios to talk to Santa and his wife with."

The children enjoyed the treatment, Lowe said. "There are big smiles every time we put dogtags over each child's neck. Notice none of them have taken them off. None of them."

The children talked to Santa on the two-way radios on the way to the airport before they met the "real thing," said Grabowski. …