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Sr. Airmen Nicholas Alessi, left, and Timothy Ogan rake leaves Saturday during a cleanup day at the La Nostra Familia School in San Vito, Italy.

Sr. Airmen Nicholas Alessi, left, and Timothy Ogan rake leaves Saturday during a cleanup day at the La Nostra Familia School in San Vito, Italy. (Kent Harris / S&S)

Sr. Airmen Nicholas Alessi, left, and Timothy Ogan rake leaves Saturday during a cleanup day at the La Nostra Familia School in San Vito, Italy.

Sr. Airmen Nicholas Alessi, left, and Timothy Ogan rake leaves Saturday during a cleanup day at the La Nostra Familia School in San Vito, Italy. (Kent Harris / S&S)

Sr. Airman Jonathan McInnis applies a coat of stain Saturday onto a small building in the spacious yard of the La Nostra Familia School in San Vito, Italy.

Sr. Airman Jonathan McInnis applies a coat of stain Saturday onto a small building in the spacious yard of the La Nostra Familia School in San Vito, Italy. (Kent Harris / S&S)

Staff Sgts. Janice McManaman and Bryan Lynch make Christmas decorations Saturday with students at the La Nostra Familia School in San Vito, Italy.

Staff Sgts. Janice McManaman and Bryan Lynch make Christmas decorations Saturday with students at the La Nostra Familia School in San Vito, Italy. (Kent Harris / S&S)

SAN VITO, Italy — Community organizations within driving distance of Aviano Air Base are discovering that U.S. military personnel are capable of some pretty great feats out of uniform as well.

Such as moving a mountain of leaves.

Or putting the white back on a seemingly endless expanse of railing.

Or demonstrating that Martha Stewart isn’t the only Yank handy with holiday decorations.

Saturday, several organizations combined to send dozens of airmen to a special-needs school in this small community about 25 miles southeast of the base. Most of them were members of the Airmen Leadership School, a six-week course in which junior enlisted Air Force personnel gain skills.

Raking, sweeping and painting aren’t usually the ones listed atop the syllabus. But they were the skills most evident Saturday.

“It’s always up to the class what we want to do,” said Staff Sgt. Bryan Lynch, the class commander. “But it has to be some kind of community service. When this came up, it got an overwhelming response.”

La Nostra Familia School was founded decades ago by a local priest. The school is one of only two in the region that serves mentally and/or physically handicapped students.

Americans have been here before. The local Harley-Davidson chapter has brought in toys after holiday gift drives. But those arriving Saturday brought only a willingness to pitch in and a variety of skill levels.

Senior Airman Robert Reed said it was like old times for him. He once worked for his grandfather’s landscaping business in Mobile, Ala.

“It’s better than a day at work,” he said with a smile, “kind of relaxing.”

For Senior Airman Nicholas Alessi, it seemed like just another day at work — although the setting was different.

“We do this every day,” he said of his job with the 31st Civil Engineer Squadron. However, he doesn’t usually bring his wife, Michelle, to work with him. She was one of several volunteers Saturday who weren’t part of the ALS class. Others were helping as part of the Hidden Heroes and Project Cheer initiatives pushed by U.S. Air Forces in Europe.

The programs are “kind of a cultural exchange and fostering good relations within the surrounding community,” Vickie Jo Ryder, volunteer resources manager at the base’s Family Support Center, said.

Lynch was one of a half-dozen airmen who got some serious cultural exchange. They helped students and teachers craft holiday decorations, despite some heavy language barriers.

“One of the fun things is trying to figure everything out,” he said.

Other tasks didn’t need much translation. Senior Airmen Kelly Landerbaugh and Cynthia Cancienne busily rolled white paint onto a railing where rust was trying to make a fashion statement.

Both said their painting skills were a bit rusty as well. Cancienne participated in similar projects at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. Landerbaugh said if he wasn’t painting, he’d probably be getting exercise on his bike.

Brigitte Fausti, teaching coordinator for the school, said she was happy to see so many volunteers. She said she didn’t expect to see so many young faces.

“It was very, very nice,” she said of the effort.

author picture
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

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