Tribute to Valor is excited to share the news that we have just completed our STEMliner III mission and it was a huge success!
Registration and a kickoff dinner were held at Transfiguration School in South Los Angeles on Friday, October 20, 2023. This allowed the kids, parents and teachers to begin getting acquainted with each other as well as the other volunteers.
The evening began with a presentation of The Colors by one of the students and the National Anthem was sung by Mr. Albion Josiah, a Tribute to Valor supporter and Grammy Award winning artist. There was a short program, and then it was time for goodbye and everyone was loaded onto buses headed for the hotel to try and get some sleep before our early morning departure.
Saturday morning roll call came early so that everyone could get their to-go breakfast and be on the bus by 5:00 a.m. for the departure to Los Alamitos to catch the C-130’s for Houston. You could feel the excitement and nervousness in the air as the kids began to board the planes. As you can imagine, the noise from the engines was deafening and the cargo net seating was quite the surprise! Once all the bags were loaded onto the ramp at the rear of the plane, and strapped down, the door began to close for taxi and takeoff. After reaching cruising altitude, the pilots and the rest of the Air Force crew allowed each of the kids and volunteers to come to the cockpit, one at a time, for a tour. They had the opportunity to take photos and speak with the pilots and crew. The look of sheer joy and awe on each and every face was absolutely priceless. One of the students, Amir D. wants to be a pilot and spent quite a long time with Load Master Jaden, getting a tour of the plane and a lengthy explanation of some of the electronics and how things worked. About halfway through the plane ride, the kids were given lunch which consisted of sandwiches, fruit, chips and drinks and then had quite an amazing picnic at 27,000 feet!
Touchdown in Houston was at around 1:30 pm. local time, and everyone immediately boarded the buses and headed straight for NASA. Upon arrival at NASA, there was a tram ride for a quick tour of the facility and then it was back to the classroom, where the kids were divided into groups and given their first engineering project. The mission was to build a launch platform with the goal of it being as tall as possible and able to hold the weight of some nickels. The catch was, they could only use 3 plastic cups, a handful of paper clips, a few coffee filters, some popsicle sticks, about 5 pieces of copy paper and 11 ½ inches of tape!
Each table had a mentor to guide them on this project, but it quickly became clear that the adults needed to back away and let the kids run with their ideas. These kids are brilliant and watching them work together, sharing ideas, listening to each other, making suggestions and truly teaming to win bragging rights on the best launch platform was amazing! In the end, the winning platform was 22 ½ inches tall and able to hold 7 ROLLS of nickels for 30 seconds!
After cleanup, everyone moved to the Saturn V rocket hangar for dinner. While enjoying a pasta dinner at tables that had been set up under the rocket, everyone marveled at its size and historical significance and were given the opportunity for a short walking tour around it, guided by one of the NASA employees. After dinner, it was then time to head to the hotel for a well deserved rest from the long day of travel and excitement.
Sunday and Monday were filled with STEM breakout sessions where the kids had the opportunity to learn about coding and software development in AI (Artifical Intelligence) for space rovers. They also got to build and fire rockets, as well as build and test heat shields and cryo chambers that they constructed using limited resources.
Tribute To Valor was fortunate to have a small army of teachers and subject matter experts, all of whom were volunteers, helping with STEMliner III. Many came from similar backgrounds and experienced some of the same hardships as these kids and could really relate to the challenges they face on a daily basis. Growing up, they came from broken homes without much money. Some lived in bad neighborhoods with a lot of gang activity and some had been shot, or shot AT and had witnessed violence and even the murders of friends and loved ones. They faced racial or gender challenges and did not have a lot of positive mentors or role models to help guide them on their path. Despite all that, they are now successful Medal of Honor recipients, veterans, parents, teachers, scientists, community leaders, doctors, business professionals, popular TV and radio personalities and airplane pilots, all with one common goal….to give back. For three days, these amazing people wrapped their strong arms around these children and let them know they are loved and valued, smart, capable and worthy. Not only that, and maybe most importantly, they are not alone and there is a huge team of adults out there ready to step up and help them succeed in any way possible. Sometimes….all it takes is one person to change the life of a child and lives were changed during the weekend of STEMliner III in October!
Tribute to Valor’s mission is to get kids to ask themselves “Who Am I” and answer using the 6 core values of the Medal of Honor, which are Courage, Sacrifice, Commitment, Patriotism, Citizenship and Integrity. This message was repeated often throughout the weekend, with a huge emphasis on Integrity, which Gary Littrell, Medal of Honor recipient and Tribute to Valor Chairman likes to tell the kids is the most important word in the English language. At the end of the weekend, we asked the kids to write what they thought of the weekend, what they are thankful for and how they will be using the 6 core values of the Medal of Honor in their daily lives. The notes were astounding and a small sampling, along with photos of the weekend have been shared on this website.
It is our sincere hope that these messages and photos will touch you as deeply as they have touched all of us here at Tribute to Valor. From all of us and on behalf of our STEMliner kids, THANK YOU and we hope you will continue to support our important work in the future on STEMliner IV and other missions.