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Face of Defense: Airman Spends Leave Upgrading Children’s Home

By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn L. Rich-Pendracki
18th Wing

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan, Aug. 6, 2013 – When service members take leave, it’s often to reinvigorate or re-energize themselves. One airman here spent his time away from the day-to-day grind reinvigorating a children's home in Thailand.

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Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Gargus is surrounded by the tools of his trade while holding a cross that he crafted in his free time. Gargus recently returned from Thailand, where he helped to build a playground for children who live in homes supported by an organization that fights human trafficking. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn L. Rich-Pendracki

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Gargus, a 18th Civil Engineer Squadron structural craftsman, attended a service at the Kadena chapel in January and he learned of an upcoming trip to Thailand to make a difference in the lives of children who have been taken off the streets and out of lives that could lead to tragedy, living in homes supported by the organization Remember Nhu.

"Remember Nhu deals with the prevention of human trafficking, and they have scores of kids to care for," said Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Daniel Call.

Intrigued, Gargus did more research and found out more about Remember Nhu.

"When I heard about this trip, something inside spoke to me," he said. "[It was] a calling. I had to go."

Remember Nhu is a nonprofit organization that supports homes for children in Thailand, Burma and Cambodia with the intent of getting them off the streets and sparing them from human trafficking. The organization's namesake, Nhu, was such a child, before being rescued and adopted by Carl and Laurie Ralston from Portland, Ore.

Remember Nhu's approach at combating human trafficking is to help one child at a time by creating a loving, educational, peaceful and happy environment with spiritual guidance.

After learning all that he could about Nhu and the organization, Gargus reached out to a member of the Kadena chapel’s youth ministry. They began discussing ideas for a new playground to be built on the grounds of homes in northern Thailand. Talk became action, and before long, the plans were drawn and the trip was underway.

"We came up with plans for the playground that we wanted to build for these kids something for them to enjoy," Gargus said.

The playground went from the drawing board to reality.

"We used [about] 10,000 feet of rope and webbing to make the cargo nets that made up the playground,” Call said. “All the nets were hand tied by the teams. The playground also included a 60-foot zip line. Nothing is more satisfying than seeing 30 to 40 children delighted in the gift of the playground through the squeals and laughter that we saw the last day we were in Thailand."

Remember Nhu supports four homes with about 45 children in each home, and organization officials hope to open more.

Gargus worked at the houses in northern Thailand for a month.

"These kids were incredible," he said. "We got to eat with them every day. I sat on the floor with one little boy that I saw eating by himself. The next thing I knew, there were kids surrounding me. The experience was life-changing."

Since his initial involvement seven months ago, Gargus said, he has decided to increase his participation.

"I want to go back someday, and am looking forward to returning soon and fulfilling my calling," Gargus said.

He also plans on continuing his support by raising money and volunteering as much time as he can.

"God has blessed me with a certain skill set needed for my job, as well as the love to help people," Gargus said. "Doing the job I love and helping people while serving God is a dream come true."


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