Saturday, January 30, 2010

Oregon Air Guard "Redhawks" raise the bar on 2010 Polar Plunge

Oregon Air National Guard "Redhawks" team members prepare to take the 'plunge' into the frigid waters of the Columbia River, as part of the 2010 Polar Plunge--an event which benefits the Special Olympics. The event took place at Broughton Beach in north Portland, Jan. 30. The team raised over $11,000.

Braving frigid waters and cool air temperatures, members of the Oregon Air National Guard's 142nd Fighter Wing "Redhawks" made a difference in a local charity event in Portland today.

Fifty-two airmen from the Portland Air National Guard Base took part in today’s Polar Plunge—an event which benefits the Special Olympics.

In 2009, a group of Oregon airmen came to the event, but only 15 Redhawks made the plunge. This year, thanks in part to the effort of Oregon Air Guard member, and plunge team captain, Staff Sgt. Jared Johnson, the number of plungers tripled, while the amount of donations doubled.

“It was pretty easy to recruit plungers,” Johnson said. “A lot of people are community service oriented, so it wasn’t too hard to get them to jump in a freezing river.”

Johnson got involved with Special Olympics when he helped hand out medals to the athletes years ago. He said the experience changed him forever.

“It’s very humbling seeing the athletes and their parents and the level of dedication (they have),” he said. “It changes your perspective on a lot of things.”

Near the Columbia River, under gray skies, the large crowd of ‘plungers’ and their supporters made their way to Broughton Beach, located just off NE Marine Drive, near NE 33rd Ave. The event took on a festive nature, in spite of the light rain, overcast skies, and 40-degree air temperatures.

Rescue swimmers patrolled the river next to a Multnomah County Sheriff’s rescue boat, next to a floating boundary located about 30 feet from the water’s edge. A Portland Fire Department fire boat sprayed water from its hoses out in the shipping channel.

Local news celebrity, Drew Carney, hosted the event from the main stage set up under a large white tent. He introduced each of the teams as they approached the water’s edge. Many were dressed in costumes, or wore brightly colored hats.

The first team to enter the Columbia was made up of the Portland Police Department and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s office. Led by Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer, the large group, dressed in police working uniforms, charged the water with reckless abandon. Some made their way out to their colleagues in the deeper water.

The airmen were next.

Wearing various types of shirts, the Redhawk team was easily distinguished by their Airmen Battle Uniform pants. As Carney introduced the team, another cheer arose from the crowd of onlookers. Photographers snapped pictures as the countdown began.

“Three… Two… One!” Carney screamed into his microphone.

In a flurry of yelling, flying sand, and splashing water, the airmen sprinted into the freezing Columbia as a group. Some made it only to waist-level, while others negotiated the sandy bottom to make it out to the rescue swimmers near the boat. They wanted to meet the challenge issued by the previous group of plungers.

When it was all said and done, Tech. Sgt. Misty Gremaud said she wished she had not worn her ABU pants.

“They got really heavy and it was hard to move,” she said with a laugh. “Next year, I’m wearing shorts!”

Chief Master Sgt. Max White, 142nd Fighter Wing Command Chief, said the 40-degree waters of the Columbia River didn’t really seem that cold.

“In Germany, they would say the water was ‘frisch!’,” he said.

White said the camaraderie made the event all the more worth the effort, but he gave special thanks to Johnson who helped motivate other airmen to join in the plunge.

“I’d like to thank the Redhawks from the 142 FW who plunged into the Columbia today to raise money for Special Olympics,” White said.

Gremaud said she was looking forward to next year’s plunge.

”It was very exciting,” she said. “I loved the frenzy of it all!”

Johnson, who serves on the Law Enforcement Torch Run Executive Council, said he hopes to see an even bigger turnout next year.

“The (fighter) wing gets involved because of Security Forces being involved and the connections to law enforcement,” Johnson said. “But I really think the entire fighter wing needs to get involved in the future.

Johnson hopes to see 100 or more plungers representing the fighter wing next year, in addition to all the supervisors and commanders providing support. One thing is for sure—White will be there. With the water from this year’s plunge still wet on his body, he’s already started planning for next year.

“Sign me up right now for next year,” White said as he toweled off.

Just over $11,000 was raised by the Oregon Air National Guard members for Special Olympics, Johnson said.

For more information on the Special Olympics Polar Plunge, go here.


Story and photos by Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy, Oregon National Guard Social Media Manager

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