Utah Air Guard families visit the Utah House

  • Published
  • By Debbie Ramsay
  • Coordinator, Speak Out for Military Kids
Utah military families recently experienced an evening of environmental fun at the Utah House in September at an event sponsored by Operation Military Kids.

OMK is an organization created by the U.S. Army to work with local communities to help support children and youth who are impacted by military member deployments. In Utah, OMK offers children and youth of all the military branches many opportunities for support and recreation. The goal of the Utah House trip was to provide quality time for families

For many people, it was their first visit to the Utah House. The 100-acre center offered a variety of activities for the families, from hands-on energy activities, to eating s'mores, to bird watching at the ponds. Additionally, the group had the opportunity to visit with local bird expert and author of the "Backyard Birds" book series, Bill Fenimore, and watch bird shows with Ben Woodruff from the Skymasters Wildlife Foundation.

Inside a classroom in the Utah House, kids tried their hands and feet to create energy.

"This is cool," said Ellie Nielson, daughter of Senior Airman Brent Nielson, 151st Air Refueling Wing, as she watched the pinwheel she made spin in the breeze of a fan. The spinning action of her pinwheel was wound by a string attached to a paper cup bucket that delivered her a small piece of candy.

Nearby, a specially designed stationary bicycle gave people the chance to test their ability to generate electricity by making a fan and lights attached to the bike turn on.

"Watch this, it's going to be cool," said 5-year-old John Waite, son of Maj. Paul Waite, 151st ARW Civil Engineering Squadron, as he began to pedal the bike. "I'm making electricity!"

On the other side of the Utah House was the Wetland Discovery Center where Woodruff and a few of his favorite feathered friends taught the visitors a few facts about birds. Woodruff removed the hood off a bird's head as he shared some history about falcons.

"Utah has more peregrine falcons than every other state except for California," said Woodruff. "In fact I saw a wild one just today."

The falcon wasn't the only bird he had with Utah ties.

Woodruff explained that the beautiful blue macaw he brought along with him also had history in Utah. He explained although the bird lives in the jungles of Central and South America, many times ceremonial items found at Utah's Fremont and Anasazi ruins were made from the macaw's bright feathers.

"Do you want to hear its alarm?" asked Woodruff referring to the macaw.

"Yes!" answered the crowd.

The macaw then delivered an ear-splitting squawk that had many jumping up in their seats followed by a chorus of children's laughter.

"Handy in the jungle," said Woodruff referring to the noise, "Obnoxious in a home."

The sun had set by the time the bird show ended. The pinks and oranges of the sunset were replaced by a sliver of the moon and stars. Most families headed for home, but a few went back to the patio at the Utah House for one last s'more and to reflect on the evening.

"I think this is a great thing for kids," said Shelly Hutchinson, wife of Utah Air National Guard's Master Sgt. Martin Hutchinson, as she watched her boys roast their marshmallows. "It's been a great opportunity for them to be doing these activities."

Hutchinson's son, nine-year-old Aaron seemed to agree.

"I liked learning about the birds," said Aaron. "But I think, I kind of like the s'mores and water thing the best."

Connie Packer, coordinator for OMK, felt the evening was a success. "I think the families really enjoyed their time out here at the center. We're happy to provide activities like this to help show appreciation and support for our great Utah military families."