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Airman 1st Class Bri Tuininga races with Special Olympian Pascal Kaiser at Kaiserslautern's Special Olympics. Tuininga was one of about 1,400 volunteers at Wednesday's event.
Airman 1st Class Bri Tuininga races with Special Olympian Pascal Kaiser at Kaiserslautern's Special Olympics. Tuininga was one of about 1,400 volunteers at Wednesday's event. (Lisa Horn / S&S)
Airman 1st Class Bri Tuininga races with Special Olympian Pascal Kaiser at Kaiserslautern's Special Olympics. Tuininga was one of about 1,400 volunteers at Wednesday's event.
Airman 1st Class Bri Tuininga races with Special Olympian Pascal Kaiser at Kaiserslautern's Special Olympics. Tuininga was one of about 1,400 volunteers at Wednesday's event. (Lisa Horn / S&S)
Army Reserve Capt. Margaret Mosely cheers on Nicole Eggers.
Army Reserve Capt. Margaret Mosely cheers on Nicole Eggers. (Lisa Horn / S&S)
Command Sgt. Maj. Sam Morris of the 29th Support Brigade in Kaiserslautern, Germany, congratulates Michael Schuff.
Command Sgt. Maj. Sam Morris of the 29th Support Brigade in Kaiserslautern, Germany, congratulates Michael Schuff. (Lisa Horn / S&S)
Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Cathy Barker presents an award to Annika Huwig. Barker was one of 26 senior Army and Air Force noncommissioned officers who presented awards to the athletes. Also pictured is Annika's buddy, Ramstein High School freshman Teriq Bethea.
Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Cathy Barker presents an award to Annika Huwig. Barker was one of 26 senior Army and Air Force noncommissioned officers who presented awards to the athletes. Also pictured is Annika's buddy, Ramstein High School freshman Teriq Bethea. (Lisa Horn / S&S)
Lt. Col. David Hall, 415th Base Support Battalion commander, presents Wladimir Moser, 8, with the Sarah Bican Inspirational Athlete trophy.
Lt. Col. David Hall, 415th Base Support Battalion commander, presents Wladimir Moser, 8, with the Sarah Bican Inspirational Athlete trophy. (Lisa Horn / S&S)

ENKENBACH-ALSENBORN, Germany — Entering the Air Force didn’t mean that Master Sgt. Simon McGinnis had to give up something he loved — helping special needs children.

On Wednesday, McGinnis was doing just that at the Kaiserslautern Special Olympics.

“My degree is in education and I really enjoy it,” said McGinnis, who was a teacher’s aide in Louisiana before joining the Air Force full time 21 years ago. “I constantly want to be around kids.”

This year’s Kaiserslautern Special Olympics was host to roughly 760 athletes from 40 schools at the Rhineland-Palatinate Police Academy. The annual event, organized by Kaiserslautern’s 415th Base Support Battalion, is in its 21st year.

American and German Special Olympians competed in track and field events, soccer and modified competitive sports that included a tennis ball bounce or volleyball.

In a day tailor-made for them, athletes ages 8 to 70 competed or enjoyed the activities in the Olympic Village, which included an arts and crafts tent, live country music and square dancing.

“It’s not about winning the awards or having perfect events,” Cortez said. “It’s about what the athlete wants for the day. [Whatever] puts a smile on their face, that’s what’s worth it.”

McGinnis was one of 1,400 volunteers at the event and, as a Special Olympics buddy, escorted Sascha Mueller-Emmrich from one event to another. In addition to U.S. servicemembers, several German army soldiers served as buddies.

“There are no losers, but I have to say that some of our athletes are very competitive with what they do and will compete nationally, internationally and train year-round,” said Alicia Cortez, Special Olympics event coordinator.

Patricia Ruthberg, who accompanied her 10-year-old daughter, Stefanie, to the Special Olympics said that the friendly competition is what the event is all about.

“It’s a great program because it allows kids to do what they want to do — run around,” Ruthberg said. “The atmosphere here is very casual, which makes it easy for a disabled child … to jump in anytime. We look forward to it every year.”

Stefanie’s buddy, Senior Airman Charity Floyd, agreed.

“I find it rewarding and a good time. I like watching the kids get excited,” Floyd said.

“Out of all that we do in the community,” said the 415th BSB commander, Lt. Col. David Hall, “this is what makes us the most proud.”

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