Chris Collins
The Baker City Herald

S taff at Harvest Christian Academy prepared for the landing of a Chinook military helicopter at their school Wednesday by securing anything that could be blown away when the large, two-rotor aircraft whirred to the ground.

That meant moving lawn chairs, picnic tables, canoes and barbecue grills to a site away from the wind-blowing helicopter blades, said kindergarten teacher Betty Spooner.

She led the effort to bring the Chinook helicopter, piloted by Sgt. Jeremy Maddox, to the school’s Military Appreciation Day.

Fifty-five veterans joined the school’s 91 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade for a lunch of barbecued hamburgers, baked beans, potato salad and dessert.

In addition to notes of appreciation and thanks, students presented their honored guests with American flag lapel pins.

Prior to the helicopter landing, school staff notified neighbors of the anticipated hubbub and sent out invitations to veterans and active duty military personnel, police officers and firefighters, Spooner said.

Planning for the big day began last year when Sgt. Maddox’s daughter, Kinzie, was in Spooner’s kindergarten class.

Kinzie and her classmates were invited to watch Maddox land the Chinook helicopter during a Career Day event at the North Powder Charter School.

Maddox is employed full time with the Army National Guard at Pendleton. He has served two tours in the Middle East, including deployment to Afghanistan in 2010-11 and to Iraq in 2015-16, Spooner said.

The kindergarten teacher was so impressed by the North Powder event, she began thinking about how to bring Maddox and his helicopter to Baker City.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my word, I want to do that for my students and our school,’ ” Spooner said.

So, she and Ben Potter, the school’s principal, started the ball rolling and other members of the school’s 15-person staff joined in working to make the event happen.

Spooner said there are requirements that must be met to be accepted for having the helicopter land on school grounds. As part of the process, students in Grades 7-12 wrote 18 letters to the people who would make that decision. They told about how the visit would “change the lives of kids in our school,” Spooner said.

Having the emergency service workers in place with a fire truck and ambulance also was part of the requirement, Spooner said.

Younger students in Grades 3-6 helped prepare for the event by writing letters of appreciation and thank-you notes to the veterans.

After a year’s worth of planning and waiting, the school learned just three weeks ago that Maddox would be landing Wednesday, Spooner said.

During his visit, students got the chance to tour the helicopter and learn more about its inner workings and how it’s used by the military. A recruiter from Ontario also was on hand to talk to students about military service opportunities.

And as part of the fun, students toured the fire truck and ambulance and visited with the firefighters and police officers as well.

“Everything went just as smooth as silk,” Spooner said. “It was fabulous — we had the best day.”