As Brandon Bickham, a senior at West High School, entered his second lap around the track, there was no mistaking the message the 18-year-old wanted to convey: “Bears love veterans.”
Bickham is one of at least 500 West High students looping the track this week to raise money to send World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., as part of Big Sky Honor Flight.
Bickham showcased a red, white and blue poster as he rounded the track. “I just want to show a little appreciation and support for the veterans,” he said.
Following on his heels was Chris Beringer, 17, a junior, who carried a sign emblazoned with a simple, “Thank you.”
“I just hope we can raise a ton of money,” he said.
The health enhancement students are spending the week walking the track along 24th Street West.
The effort serves a dual purpose: The students are not only raising money for the nonprofit group, but also getting some cardiovascular exercise, walking about two miles during each health class.
This marks the second consecutive year Krista Blomquist’s classes have walked to support Big Sky Honor Flight. Last year the students raised more than $5,000. This year, Blomquist has challenged each class to adopt a World War II veteran. It costs $1,000 per veteran to make the all-expenses-paid trip. The fifth flight to the nation’s capital is set for June 16-17.
This year’s effort was especially important, she said, given that voters were asked to support a $1 million general fund mill levy and a $1.2 million elementary technology levy. Both were approved.
“It is a good time for people to see we want to give back to the community,” Blomquist said. “These men and women are the greatest generation. They are the reason we are here.”
Heather Graf, a 16-year-old sophomore, helped raise money for Big Sky Honor Flight last year and was at the airport for an emotional sendoff of the second flight. “I was overwhelmed with joy,” she said. “I felt honored to help them get to Washington, D.C., to see their memorial.”
For Ashley Barrett, 15, a sophomore, the fundraising effort is personal. Much of her family has served in the U.S. Air Force, including her brother who is currently in Guam. “I love this opportunity to support veterans.”
Whitney Maxwell, 15, a sophomore, was first in line as the students queued for the morning workout. “It’s important for everyone to know the sacrifices these veterans made for this country,” she said. “This is a very small sacrifice that we can make for them.”
Each flight costs about $155,000 and is paid for with donations.