Bikes to Bagram

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- More than 20 disadvantaged children in Afghanistan will get new bikes this month thanks to a group of Anchorage volunteers and an assist from the Alaska Air National Guard.

The bicycles, together with parts and tools, were donated by the Anchorage Community YMCA, The Bicycle Shop, Paramount Cycles, Chain Reactions, and REI, Inc. They were then refurbished by Off the Chain, a non-profit, all-volunteer bicycle collective in Anchorage. Funded purely through donations and grants, Off the Chain offers bicycle education and maintenance to the community of Anchorage. Their services are aimed at providing mobility to those whose only transportation are their bikes and who cannot afford maintenance elsewhere.

A group of Off the Chain volunteers came up with the idea of giving bicycles to underprivileged Afghani children. The big obstacle was getting them there. A couple of months ago, organizers approached Lt. Col. David Glick, a pilot with the Alaska Air National Guard's 144th Airlift Squadron. The squadron routinely flies personnel, equipment and supplies into the remote, war-torn country.

Chris Himes, a long-term Off the Chain volunteer, said "I can't imagine any other way it could have happened. It's a perfect confluence of interests and abilities ... the Air Guard being on the way anyway, and being able to distribute the bikes, which we would never be able to."

On Saturday, Dec. 5, a group of Air Guard members arrived at Off the Chain with a flatbed truck to pick up the bikes. On Tuesday, Dec. 8, Guard members at Kulis Air National Guard Base will load them onto a C-130 tactical airlift plane for the three-day flight to Afghanistan. Once there, they will be handed over to local U.S. military unit at Bagram Airfield for distribution to the Afghani children.

"I think it's great," said Henry Crankshaw, an Off the Chain volunteer. "During this time of year, not many people come in for kids' bikes. This is a great opportunity to get our surplus of kids' bikes out the door to people who will actually enjoy them immensely."
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