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Trainees give thanks for homecooking

By April Blumer | 37th Training Wing Public Affairs Office | Nov. 25, 2007

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, TEXAS — Basic trainees traded their dorm rooms for family rooms Thanksgiving Day as more than 1,400 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, Tech. Sgt. Roy Barnett, assigned to the Air Force Personnel Center at Randolph AFB, have opened their home to basic trainees for six years now, making Operation Homecooking a part of their Thanksgiving tradition.

Wrapping up its 32nd successful year, Operation Homecooking provided families within a 30-mile radius of Lackland AFB the opportunity to share traditional Thanksgiving celebrations with 2,341 Air Force basic trainees, most in their third through sixth week of training, as well as 32 technical school students and 112 students from the Defense Language Institute.

"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 every food here is so good. I had to ask names of most of the foods," said the 19-year-old who has just woken from a nap.

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 said his training instructors told the flight to make sure they were respectful and used common courtesies because they represent Lackland AFB.

"We told him, 'No problem. We've had good training and know how to handle situations,'" said the Carbondale, Ill., native in his fifth week of training.

Trainee Johnson, 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 the acting Lieutenant at San Antonio's Fire Station 12, Valentino Cascaneda.

"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 on time and without incident, according to Jim Steele, 737th Training Support Squadron chief of basic military training operations. 

"We will definitely do this again next year," said Sergeant Barnett. "We enjoy doing this for the trainees."