By Amber Baillie
U.S. Air Force Academy
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo., Jan. 15, 2014 – During his eight-month deployment to Afghanistan, a U.S. Air Force Academy officer encouraged schoolchildren to aim high and reach for the stars.
Air Force Maj. Doug Kaupa, a 1995 academy graduate and astronautics department instructor here, deployed to the Afghan capital of Kabul from May to December 2013, where he was assigned to U.S. Forces Afghanistan. While there, he distributed star charts and space images to 250 Afghan children through “Discover the Universe,” a program designed to educate them on the planets, stars and constellations that dress the night sky.
“They were street-working children who had to work at the market or sell other things to help provide for their families,” Kaupa said. “They didn’t attend school traditionally — they only stopped by when they had time. The night sky is something everyone can enjoy, and I wanted to give the kids something to look forward to.”
In November, Kaupa and a Navy officer journeyed 30 miles to Anna’s Educational Center, where they distributed books, paper and pencils to first- through fourth-graders.
“We’d established a relationship, donated school supplies, and I thought, ‘It would be cool if we could give the kids something else, something they’d really get excited about,’” he said. Candy, soccer balls and glossy pamphlets displaying photos of planets, stars, and galaxies — provided by Astronomy magazine — soon were in the students’ hands.
Kaupa said the children became intrigued while thumbing through the pages of vibrant images.
“Teachers said students would return the next day or week after receiving them and ask, ‘Is this how I look up at the night sky?’ or they’d try to describe the Big Dipper,” Kaupa said. “We wanted the children to see things more deeply and give them some kind of hope, some kind of dream.”
Kaupa and his colleagues also were able to supply binoculars to the students so they could explore astronomy further. “The kids were always happy to see us, because they knew we were bringing them something other than just smiles,” he said.
“The children are the future,” the major said. “If you’re going to win the hearts and minds of people there, you want to start with the younger crowd. All they’ve known is war [and] conflict, and they have struggled day to day. To me, the program was an opportunity to let the kids know that the world is a bigger place and that bigger opportunities exist within it.”
A KC-135 Stratotanker pilot, Kaupa began teaching astronautics here in April 2012.
“I like to tell cadets about the program and emphasize we don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” he said. “I like to pull them out of their comfort zone. It’s always valuable for airmen to deploy, because if you always just do your one job, it’s like you’re walking around with blinders. This was my third deployment, and it was very eye-opening. I enjoyed working with all military branches and the Defense Logistics Agency.”
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