Silent Sleigh at the Fresno ANG
By 2nd Lt. Jason Sanchez, 144th Fighter Wing
/ Published January 31, 2016
FRESNO AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Calif. -- Hundreds of children and family members enjoyed the 28th annual Silent Sleigh event held at the Fresno Air National Guard base December 10, 2014.
Silent Sleigh is an event where deaf and hearing impaired children get to watch a Christmas parade, play carnival games, and most importantly, interact with a Santa and a Mrs. Clause that both speak sign language. The event is joint effort between Fresno Unified School District, Madera Unified School District, Clovis Unified School District, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Service Center, deaf community members, and the 144th Fighter Wing.
Airmen from the 144th Fighter Wing supported Silent Sleigh by creating numerous floats, participating in the parade, and hosting the event. As the parade traveled down Guard Road, excited children watched with anticipation.
In keeping with the spirit of the Air Force, the parade included a jet engine decorated as Santa's sleigh, military vehicles adorned with Christmas cheer, a NORAD Santa tracker, and pilots flying (or was it carrying) in meticulously hand-painted cardboard jets.
Airmen also walked the parade route while handing out candy canes and suckers. Other floats created by airmen featured beloved characters like Lilo and Stitch, Elsa and Olaf from Frozen, and Gru from Despicable Me riding his huge foreboding gray car. The Grinch was even seen enjoying the festivities.
Air Force Colonel Clay Garrison, 144th Fighter Wing Commander, is a big supporter of the event. "It's great. The airmen like doing it, and it's great to see the kids out here. The airmen put a lot of thought and effort into their floats. It's a good thing for the base and the community," said Garrison.
Silent Sleigh Committee chair, Ronda Schmidt, stated that one of the most important aspects of the event is that deaf and hearing impaired children get a chance to meet others just like them. "The kids can come together, participate in activities; they get to talk to a Santa Clause that can communicate with them." Schmidt is a teacher of deaf and hearing students in ClovisUnified School District.
Executive Director of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center, Michelle Bronson, signed "Deaf and hard of hearing children from all over the valley come here to Silent Sleigh to be able to interact with each other- have fun, and meet with a signing Santa and also with a signing Mrs. Claus."
Master Sgt. Lauren Pike, Munitions Flight Chief, serves as the point of contact to the Silent Sleigh Committee for the wing. .Pike explained that planning for the event occurs throughout the year, and they start meeting twice a month in September She stated that the kids enjoy getting the opportunity to be on base. Additionally, the airmen help to make the event special and exciting. Pike said, "The more participation from the base makes it a more memorable event for the kids. The kids love it."
Schmidt said that 150 to 200 children from local school districts and outlying areas attended the event. Schmidt was grateful to the base and the many community organizations that contributed to make Silent Sleigh a success. Schmidt stated, "The base is involved, and they provide part of the parade and the place definitely. They have been a supporter of us for the last 28 years."