A Boy and His Elephant
Photo and story by Staff Sgt. Mark Olsen

Senior Airman Denise Martinez, Stephan and Little Boy, the elephantThis tale of a mother, her son, and a well traveled stuffed toy elephant all started when the mother, Senior Airman Denise Martinez, a production controller in the Logistics Support Flight, 177th Fighter Wing, volunteered for OSW.

When Senior Airman Martinez told her five-year old son Stephan that she was going to Saudi for two weeks, Stephan got worried that his mom would forget him while she was over there. So he decided to send "Little Boy" - his stuffed toy gray elephant - with his mom so she wouldn't forget him.

As an aircraft maintenance controller at PSAB, Senior Airman Martinez was responsible for making sure that all the paperwork for prepping and maintaining the 177th's F-16s was performed.

"One day I came in the dayroom with Little Boy and somebody suggested that I fly him over Iraq," continued Martinez. She made some inquiries and found that this was not as strange an idea as she first thought it was. "It turns out that people give the pilots flags and other objects to take with them when they fly over Iraq all the time," explained Martinez.

"Denise came to me and asked if I could see that the elephant flew on one of the missions over the North (Iraq)," stated Senior Master Sgt. Donald Martenz, Production Supervisor, Aircraft Generation Squadron. "I made sure that it got on the first flight of the day."

The 177th pilot chosen for this duty was Maj. Scott "Vinnie" Barberides. "I was there to greet him with the elephant when he arrived at the jet," noted Senior Master Sgt. Martenz. "He kinda of laughed when I handed it to him and he then just proceeded to do his walk-around to make sure his F-16 ready to go."

Major Barberides takes over at this point. "There in the jet was a fuzzy elephant in the corner. We usually go up with a bagful of flags. I stuffed the elephant in back behind the ejection seat and that is where it sat for the rest of the mission."

No trip would be complete without proof of where the traveler had been. Little Boy received a certificate which reads: This is to certify that this elephant known as "Little Boy" was flown for Stephan Martinez in the skies over Iraq onboard a 119th Fighter Squadron F-16C during an OPERATION SOUTHERN WATCH Combat Mission, 7 December, 2000.

In the end there is a boy, his mom and a well traveled toy elephant that has flown from New Jersey to Saudi Arabia, over Iraq and back.