HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Staff Sgt. Andrew Mowry had been on the lookout for an affordable bicycle for stepson Kaleb.
“He outgrew his old bike,” said Mowry, an engine maintenance instructor at Hill Air Force Base. “We had been looking, but everything was too pricey.”
Kaleb Bruessel, 6, was one of 74 children in 52 families selected to get shiny new bicycles on Saturday courtesy of the local employees and interns of Northrop Grumman, a military security contractor with its Utah offices at Hill.
“When I told him he was getting a bike, he was really excited,” Mowry said of Kaleb.
Northrop Grumman’s 500 Utah employees and college interns raised funds to buy bicycles for children with parents at Hill. The group held bake sales, sold T-shirts and organized a fundraiser that called for top company officials to participate in a tricycle race.
“I was in the running for the trike race, but others were more deserving,” said Tony Spehar, company vice president and program manager for the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile integration contract.
“The whole effort was employee-driven,” Spehar said. “They raised $6,000, purchased bicycles from Walmart and started putting them together at about 8 this morning.”
Spehar said Northrop Grumman has a 50-year relationship with the military and employs many veterans. The company also supports the USO and made a corporate donation of $6,000 this year, he said.
“The work and sacrifices of Air Force and military personnel are never far from our minds,” Spehar said.
By 10:30 a.m., the 74 children’s bicycles were lined up, smallest to tallest, in two rows. Each bike had a safety helmet attached and the name of a child: Jordan, Peter, Wesley, Nacaya, Hannah, Myli, Mia, Richardo and Liam.
Parents stood by, trying to keep their children calm. The kids were impatient, asking why the process couldn’t move faster.
Staff Sgt. Filipe Mendoza stood in line for son Eeston, 4, and daughter Lily, 12, who were with their grandparents to celebrate Lily’s birthday.
“They think this is awesome,” Mendoza said. “Eeston is just learning to ride, but Lily wanted a bike for her birthday. She has a bike she has outgrown, and she wants to ride with all the neighborhood girls.”
Mendoza said Hill officials sent an email to employees who wanted to be considered. He applied, then forgot about it.
“The kids were so happy to be chosen,” he said. “Now we will be going on nice bike rides. I would like to thank the workers who made this possible.”
Just as the children showed signs they were going to burst, a Northrop Grumman worker began to call names, working from the smallest tricycles to the larger bikes for teens. Children raced to check out their new rides, with paint that sparkled in hot pink, neon green and yellow, sky blue and deep red.
Parents made sure their kids wore helmets, although a few kids could not wait for the helmets’ cardboard mountings to be removed and rode with the packaging attached as an extended bill.
Some kids swooped in circles around the parking lot like pros. Others pedaled homeward slowly, teetering on their training wheels.
Parents paused to thank Spehar and the Northrop Grumman employees for the gifts. Company employees, in turn, thanked the military men and women for their service.
“We want to thank Northrop Grumman for making this day happen,” said Chief Master Sgt. Mark A. Batzer, of the 388th Fighter Wing. “We truly appreciate their generosity and support. Young airmen don’t always have a lot of money. These bikes are a great gift to these families.”
Staff Sgt. Andres Dominguez said his young daughters Madison and Makayla were excited to get their first bikes.
“They woke up at 7 and wanted to be here at 7:30,” he said with a smile. “I predict we will be at the park the whole day, and most likely tomorrow. I’ll be spending a lot of ‘daddy time’ with my girls.”