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Real Service: MTC students help preserve military history

MTC students spend 1,000 hours serving veterans organization.When the Celebrate Freedom Foundation went looking for a new headquarters building, they found an opportunity at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport, just across the street from the Midlands Technical College (MTC) Airport Campus. An aging airline hangar was available, but not quite in move-in condition.

“The airport was about to tear the building down,” said General John Lenti, the Celebrate Freedom Foundation’s CEO. “So we were able to acquire it at a very favorable rate.”

The Celebrate Freedom Foundation is a non-profit educational and historical corporation dedicated to educating children, promoting lasting patriotism, and honoring the military. It had very limited funding to renovate a building that needed a basic demolition, followed by new walls, carpeting, paint, electrical work, and a heating and air conditioning system.

“General Lenti told me he had a place for the new headquarters,” said Celebrate Freedom volunteer Stephen Seymour. “We walked in, and I said, ‘Holy cow!’”

Seymour, a disabled Army veteran with years of combat experience, also happened to be a student in the MTC Industrial Electricity program. So, he went to his instructor with an idea.

“Steven came to me and asked me to come over to the old hangar and see what we might be able to do,” said Industrial Electricity instructor Tony Waymyers. “We looked at it, and we had a vision. We saw the opportunity. After that, it kind of snowballed.”

It was shaping up as a win-win. Waymyers said the project was a way to give his students the competencies they needed beyond the classroom.

“We worked with Midlands Technical College’s industrial department who ran it up the flagpole,” General Lenti said. “It was approved. The students came out and did 90 percent of the renovations that we have now.”

The class, giving themselves soldier nicknames like Gunny, Airborne, and Jelly Bean, tackled the project.

“We worked to tear out the whole building,” said student Jason Winkler, a veteran in both MTC’s Industrial Electricity program and Building Construction program. “We removed old wiring and outlets, ran new conduit, and added LED lights. I know they really appreciated our help.”

MTC’s Industrial Electricity program emphasizes theory and hands-on training in electrical wiring, including the applications to residential, commercial, and industrial installations. The Building Construction program is designed specifically to train the next generation of building construction professionals – from homebuilders and site personnel and superintendents.

Twenty MTC Industrial Technologies students spent their summer practicing their newfound industrial skills to help the veterans of the Celebrate Freedom Foundation. Each student took turns being the foreman and taking charge of different aspects of the project.

Their service totaled more than 1,000 hours. Demolition of the building took more than 200 hours alone.

“Volunteering my time was an honor,” said Winkler, “And it was great practical experience. I would have never had the opportunity to do this if it wasn’t for my classes at MTC.”

General Lenti said renovating the hangar turned out to be more than just a practical experience for the students. Because many of them were veterans, they found their work with the Foundation to be rewarding and purposeful.

“It was definitely a unique experience,” said Winkler. “It was meaningful work that gave me a sense of pride. And in the long-term, it is helping to preserve our military history.”

Learn more about MTC’s programs in Industrial Technologies at https://www.midlandstech.edu/learn/academic-programs/Industrial-Technologies,-Trades,-&-Manufacturing