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KSO: Powered by volunteers

Members of the Kadena Special Olympics Planning Committee gather to coordinate plans for the KSO game day in the Schilling Community Center, Oct. 6, 2015, on Kadena Air Base, Japan. The KSO is held annually and is one of the largest community relations events on Okinawa. The event is slated to be held Nov. 7 and is made possible by the efforts of approximately 2,500 volunteers from different branches of the U.S. military and the local community. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)

Members of the Kadena Special Olympics Planning Committee gather to coordinate plans for the KSO game day in the Schilling Community Center, Oct. 6, 2015, on Kadena Air Base, Japan. The KSO is held annually and is one of the largest community relations events on Okinawa. The event is slated to be held Nov. 7 and is made possible by the efforts of approximately 2,500 volunteers from different branches of the U.S. military and the local community. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)

Kadena Air Base, Japan -- The Kadena Special Olympics is slated to be held Nov. 7, as an opportunity for special needs athletes within the Okinawan community and their families to join U.S. service members in a day full of competitive sports and festivities.

For the past 15 years, the annual event has been made possible through the combined efforts of thousands of volunteers who have chosen to donate one of their most precious resources for the cause - their time. 

"I just really like seeing the impact that all this makes on the athletes and their families," said Master Sgt. Thomas Flammger, 18th Equipment Maintenance Squadron production superintendent and KSO logistics coordinator. "When you see everyone come out here to have fun in all the activities that we provide, there's really nothing like it."

Approximately 950 Special Olympics athletes will compete in a selection of 17 sporting events at the Risner Sports Complex. Each participant is paired with an athlete's buddy who is designated to watch over and support the player throughout the various sport activities.

While not every volunteer has the opportunity to provide one-on-one support with an athlete, approximately 1,500 other U.S. service members and local nationals are able to make a contribution through various other means, from setting up and taking down tents during game day to providing months of administrative planning.

"It's been a lot of preparation," said 1st Lt. Conor Sweeney, 18th Logistics Readiness Squadron asset management officer in charge. "All the POCs have been meeting every week for the past few months to make sure this year's event is going to be a huge success. It's been a lot of fun and we're all really looking forward to work with all these athletes in order to make the day special for them."

Many volunteers, like Flammger, have found themselves compelled to become involved with KSO year-after-year, regardless of the challenges and additional responsibilities that come with coordination and event planning.

"It's really funny how it works," said Flammger. "In my experience, the more commitment you give, the more payout you get of it. The more exhausted you are at the end of the day, the better you are going to feel about how you contributed."

Throughout the year, various other events are held to raise awareness and funds for the KSO game day event, to include golf tournaments, poker runs, art shows, 5Ks and more. The continuation of military and local community involvement has made KSO more than just a special day but a year-round community outreach program.

"KSO really does touch a huge amount of the community," said Flammger. "It is really difficult for everyone to keep their eyes dry when the athletes are arriving and doing their run. Everyone is giving them high fives and greeting them as they come in - man that's just powerful, and that's when you really get to realize that all the hard work is so worth it."