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Airmen from 33 SOS keep morale high w/ star wars celebrations

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An Airman from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., participates in a stationary parade at Cannon May 4, 2020. The parade celebrated Star Wars as part of “May the Fourth Be With You.” (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lane T. Plummer)

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A family participates in a stationary parade at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., May 4, 2020. The parade celebrated Star Wars culture and was put on by the 33rd Special Operations Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lane T. Plummer)

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Amanda Mande and Bryce Mande, 33rd Special Operations Squadron remotely-piloted aircraft pilot, sit in the back of their vehicle after readying their costumers for a stationary parade at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., May 4, 2020. The parade invited community members to drive through and collect disinfected bags of candy to celebrate Star Wars culture. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lane T. Plummer)

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Members of the 33rd Special Operations Squadron advertise for people to participate in a Star Wars drive thru stationary parade at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., May 4, 2020. The event brought community members together to celebrate Star Wars culture. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lane T. Plummer)

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A member of the 33rd Special Operations Squadron hands disinfected bags of candy to drive-thru participants at a stationary parade at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., May 4, 2020. The parade was put on to provide members of the community a way to celebrate the worldwide Star Wars cultural celebration day. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lane T. Plummer)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --

In the bare parking lot of the base gym, a car pulls in and parks in the middle. Stepping out are a husband and wife, who walk around the back to retrieve items from the trunk. One pulls out a mask. The other pulls out belt items to finish her costume. Meanwhile, more vehicles start pulling besides the family’s black SUV. Before long, all the garbs and weathered gear is joined by the most iconic costume item of all--the lightsaber.

“When I was 10, I was the only girl I knew who had a Phantom Menace birthday party,” said Amanda Mande.

On her right arm, Amanda has a tattoo that reads “the force is strong with this one.”

“Next to this tattoo, I’ve got an empire symbol, because dark side ‘til I die,” she said.

With her husband, Bryce, a 33rd Special Operations Squadron remotely-piloted aircraft pilot, she begins talking with other members from his unit and nerding out to the one day the force is in us all: May 4th, or “May the Fourth be With You.” They did so by participating in a stationary drive-thru parade.

One of the leading members in making it all happen was Byne Goodin.

“We conceptualized an idea for somehow executing a social event without people too closely interacting with each other and came up with this,” Goodin said. “The big driving force was hearing a lot of our people in the squadron wishing they could do something with their kids and family to lighten up the lockdown and restricted travel status we are currently in.”

What was once a bare gym parking lot quickly became filled with a line of running cars with slightly ajar windows for disinfected bags of candy to slip through and into the hands of excited children. From Chewbacca to Cara Dune, nearly a dozen well-known characters in the Star Wars universe handed out bags of goodies and stood on the sidewalk waving at cars (perhaps maniacally) inviting anyone to come through. 

“Everyone needs a bright spot in their day in troubling times like these, so a Star Wars event was an easy, fun opportunity to spread a little cheer on base,” Goodin said.

To wrap the event up, all gathered together to watch the most recent Star Wars film. Under the still-warm but darkening sky of New Mexico, people came together despite having to be six feet apart. 

“We are seriously so lucky to have a family unit like the 33 (SOS),” Amanda said. “Even before this craziness took over, the unit went out of its way to find fun ways to bring us together. In my husband’s 13 years of service, I’ve never experienced the love and support that this unit gives away regularly anywhere else.”

Before packing up the camping chairs and taking down the impromptu truck-bed tents, the 33 SOS members said their goodbyes before returning to their homes, where they’ve been isolated for over seven weeks to help flatten the curve of cases. But for one day, there was a force greater than any other that brought a family together rather than socially distance them apart.