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Base helps out as “Grate” Altus Spelling Bee celebrates 20 years

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jeremy Braswell, 97th Medical Support Squadron commander, pronounces words during the “Grate” Altus Spelling Bee, April 7, 2018, at Western Oklahoma State College, Altus, Okla.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jeremy Braswell, 97th Medical Support Squadron commander, pronounces words during the “Grate” Altus Spelling Bee, April 7, 2018, at Western Oklahoma State College, Altus, Okla. The annual event raises awareness and support of literacy in the Jackson County community. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Mr. Kenny Scarle).

Team “Red Rock Spell Casters,” with Lagena Johnson, Lindsey Huckaby and Annie Targo, successfully complete spelling the word “sclerosis” during the “Grate” Altus Spelling Bee, April 7, 2018, at Western Oklahoma State College, Altus, Okla.

Team “Red Rock Spell Casters,” with Lagena Johnson, Lindsey Huckaby and Annie Targo, successfully complete spelling the word “sclerosis” during the “Grate” Altus Spelling Bee, April 7, 2018, at Western Oklahoma State College, Altus, Okla. The team went on to take first place, beating out nine other groups participating in the Great Plains Literacy Council’s event. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Mr. Kenny Scarle).

ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- What do the words coulomb, farouche and oligotrophic have in common? They are the words that almost knocked out the two final teams competing in the 20th annual “Grate” Altus Spelling Bee, April 7, 2018. The annual competition held at Western Oklahoma State College supports the Great Plains Literacy Council, a non-profit organization aimed at helping the community in promoting literacy. Two commanders from the 97th Air Mobility Wing took part in this community event. Maj. Nicole Stevens, 97th Contracting Flight commander, served as one of this year’s judges, and Lt. Col. Jeremy Braswell, 97th Medical Support Squadron commander was the pronouncer for the day. Colonel Braswell said he enjoyed the experience, although it wasn’t easy trying to communicate some of those six-syllable words.

“I honestly have to say it was a little nerve-wracking,” said Braswell. “They are listening to your voice; they’re hearing what your enunciation is. And obviously, we all come from different regions of the United States. As a Southern person, I tried to take down my twang a little bit to make sure I pronounced the words to be recognized as easily as possible.”

In the end, Annie Targos, whose husband is a boom operator with the 54th Air Refueling Squadron, helped her team to the win. “I think there was a lot of pressure on us,” said Targos, “mainly because one of my other teammates and I both have Bachelor’s degrees in English.” Their final word for the win was “Baccalaureate.”

10 teams of three took turns attempting to spell words like sclerosis, mitochondria and bantamweight. The participants were sponsored by local organizations whose entrance fees go towards free weekly tutoring for adult learners in reading, writing or speaking English, basic literacy and English as a Second Language (ESL) training and materials for volunteer tutors to use. “It is just a phenomenal group whose endeavors in advocating literacy are incredible,” said Braswell. “You know when you look at what they do with adult literacy, and the support to those whose language isn’t primarily English, it’s really [an example of] service before self.”

The teams competed at spelling progressively harder words, until it came to the final round with the “Spell Casters,” Targos’ team who were dressed as characters from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, taking the final word to victory. Everyone showed enthusiasm for the event – from the participants dressing in costume to the crowd cheering them along. “I love that,” Targos said. “I love that I’m able to participate in something I care about. Having my bachelor’s degree in English, obviously literacy is important to me. I know not everyone is afforded the privileges I have had, so I’m happy we could contribute to something that will help others.”