Story and photo by Andrea Sutherland
When Aiden Britting, 2, woke up from his nap at the Signature Flight Support center at the Denver International Airport, he didn’t know where he was. One of hundreds of displaced military Family members coming back from Japan after the earthquake and tsunami, Aiden knew he only wanted one thing: his mom.
Toshi Smith, an employee with the Fort Carson Child, Youth and School Services and one of 60 members from the Mountain Post aiding in Operation Pacific Passage, heard Aiden’s cries and escorted the toddler to his mother who was filling out paperwork. After standing in line with his mother for a few seconds, Aiden decided to stay with Smith.
“When children cry, I go up and talk to them and they stop,” said Smith, who has worked with children for more than 30 years. “All the children I take care of as if they are my own.”
Aiden held Smith’s hand as she took him to get juice and cookies at the USO tables. Then the two headed to the inflatable play area where Smith helped Aiden take off his tennis shoes. After she helped the toddler inside, Smith climbed in after him.
At 4 feet, 5 inches, Smith isn’t much taller than the children jumping around her. She sat with Aiden, who smiled as the two were bounced by the other children.
“She’s not even supposed to be in the ‘bouncy thing,'” said Susan Silva, an administrator at CYSS. “She just had surgery on her knee.”
Silva sighed as she watched Smith bounce. “She always puts the kids first,” she said.
A native of Okinawa, Japan, Smith said that when she heard the news of the earthquake and tsunami, she was heartbroken.
“The first thing I said was, ‘Oh no,'” Smith said. “I called my family, everybody I knew.”
Smith said her immediate family survived the devastation but she still felt the loss and pain for her country.
“I am Japanese,” Smith said. “(The victims) are family. I wish I could go over there and help them. But I can help here.”
Smith joined more than 60 Soldiers and government employees from Fort Carson to help the hundreds of military Families whose homes were threatened by the ongoing events in Japan. For five days, staff and Soldiers from Fort Carson traveled to Denver to help where needed.
And Smith was there too, rocking infants to sleep and playing ball with the older children.
“I know over a thousand children,” Smith said. “Children are God’s present.”