By Matt Benedetti
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan — The enthusiastic children wave silently through the newly installed windows of the schoolhouse at the Airmen walking through the schoolyard below. The Airmen, members of the Theater Security Cooperation division from the Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, are conducting a quality assurance inspection of ongoing construction projects at the Bishkek School for the Deaf and are oblivious to the children’s efforts to attract their attention.
However, Senior Airman Brett Clashman did notice the motioning children.
Clashman, 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs photographer, noticed the group, smiled and returned the wave. To Clashman, a child of hearing impaired parents who used American Sign Language as his primary language, the kid’s expressions were loud, clear and familiar.
Recently, TSC coordinated efforts to replace approximately 300 windows and two sections of roof at the school that accepts and boards hearing impaired children from across Kyrgyzstan.
“Every time I walk up to the school, I get chills,” said Clashman, a native of Deer Park, Ohio, who is deployed from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. “I am fluent in sign language and visiting with the hearing impaired students relates to my life,” he said.
“I feel humble and glad that the Transit Center is involved in such an important project that will enhance their quality of life. These kids are away from home and were living in harsh conditions, so I take pride that our efforts will have such a lasting impact,” he said.
Clashman is preparing to redeploy to the United States, but will always cherish the opportunity to meet the students at the school.
“They are so sociable, even though they can’t speak to us, they want to communicate. Typically, when we cover events, we need the help of an interpreter. At the school, I was able to communicate directly with the kids and it was very rewarding. For the kids, being able to communicate with an individual who is not a teacher, instructor or friend was a unique experience,” he said. “Initially, they seemed surprised because they are not used to seeing Americans and it was probably the first time they have interacted with a military member.”
Maj. Brian Miller, TSC director of operations, was instrumental in facilitating the improvements to the school and is grateful for Clashman’s contributions to the mission.
“From the beginning, Clashman took a vested interest in the School for the Deaf project. He captured all the significant milestones in photos and whenever he was done, he spent time communicating with the children,” said Miller, a native of Pickerington, Ohio, who is deployed from the Pentagon. “He spoke their language and it was amazing to witness,” he said.
“Clash is the only person that I am aware of at the Transit Center who speaks sign language and the kids really respond to him. I wish he could stay for another few weeks and see the dedication ceremony,” Miller said.
Clashman reflects on his deployment and time with the kids at the Bishkek School for the Deaf with a sense of accomplishment.
“I will miss the kids and I hope that our work at the school will help create a brighter future,” he said.