CFF Executive Director Larry Russell Speaks at SCAC’s 27th Annual Mid-Year Conference

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Napalm explodes behind a Cobra Attack Helicopter hovering in front of thousands of spectators at an air and ground show at McEntire Army and Air National Guard Base in 2009. (Photo by WSM)

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As thousands of spectators attending the 2009 Air and Ground Show at McEntire Army and Air National Guard Base, a Black Hawk Helicopter hovers as the pilot demonstrates the aircraft's maneuverability.  (Photo by WSM)

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CFF Executive Director Larry Russell Speaks at SCAC’s 27th Annual Mid-Year Conference

By Stuart Morgan


Columbia (Feb. 19, 2014) — Larry Russell, Executive Director and Chief Information Officer for the Celebrate Freedom Foundation (CFF), spoke at the 27th Annual Mid-Year Conference of the South Carolina Association of Counties on Wednesday, Feb. 19 at Embassy Suites in Columbia.

Sporting a 1st Cavalry Stetson as he walked up to the podium, Russell quickly captured the attention of several hundred South Carolina county officials as he explained CFF’s origins in 1991, the organization’s evolving mission and its three objectives:  to educate children, promote patriotism and honor veterans — past, present and future.

He then focused on CFF’s Project SOaR™, a highly successful program that focuses on educating children.

“SOaR™, an academic outreach program, stands for Student/School Opportunities and Rewards,” Larry said.  “We concentrate on going out to schools, and emphasizing the importance of STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“During the past several years, we’ve taken our AH-1 helicopter, a gunship, on a trailer to almost 75 schools all over the Southeast,” he added.  “We open up the helicopter’s cowlings so kids can see the jet engine and all the wires and all the hydraulic lines, because nowadays, kids only get to see an airplane a mile high in the sky as they drive by an airport or play video games. Schools can’t afford field trips because of the economy, so we take the field trips to the schools.”

“Schools can’t afford field trips because of the economy,
so we take the field trips to the schools.”

CFF, founded by veterans, is led and operated almost entirely by volunteers. SOaR™ visits are also conducted by veterans, including pilots, who volunteer their time to educate children about careers in aviation.

“You know, our country has lost an awful lot of its industrial edge,” said Russell, who flew two tours in Viet Nam as a helicopter pilot and leads the SOaR™ visits. “Because of this, our tool and die makers, our machinists — people who can read blue prints — they’re few and far between nowadays. So, what we’re trying to do is visit schools and tell students to stay in school, graduate — you have to graduate from school — and then, pursue additional education, not necessarily a four-year degree but maybe a two-year degree or maybe a tech school. 

“We go out and talk to the students on a one to one basis, eyeball to eyeball, and we point to and let them touch this helicopter’s jet engine and this huge transmission and radio,” he added.  “We also explain to them that when they see an airplane or a helicopter you readily think of the pilot, well behind the pilot is 20 to 30 maintainers to keep that thing going and those are great jobs.”

CFF’s Project SOaR™ explains the broad range of opportunities that are available in the aviation industry, including Boeing in South Carolina, and the various career paths that students can pursue to earn good incomes, become self-sufficient and successful.

“We’re here to help you, and we want to come out to your counties and visit your schools,” Russell said. “We will mesmerize, we will excite, we will put a fire in the belly of your children.

“It’s amazing the feedback we get back from schools and teachers about the excitement we’re created after our visits,” he added. “Teachers teach day after day, but children have very few opportunities to talk to a pilot, or a maintainer, or someone who actually knows what they’re talking about — subject matter experts. This is what we provide. We provide the real thing and the real people, and we tell the kids the real story.”

CFF’s Project SOaR has become so successful that the U.S. Army has contracted with CFF, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, during the past two years to allow Army recruiters to attend SOaR™ visits so that they can speak to high school students.

“We focus on education, the importance of STEM subjects and the broad range of opportunities in the aviation industry,” Russell said. “We also give the kids an opportunity to learn about the military and how they can get an education free, and in fact, get paid to do that.”

From February to May each year, CFF’s Project SOaR™ visits dozens of schools in the South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia. (See stories on recent visits to Bethune-Bowman Middle/High School and Union County High School.)

For more information about CFF’s Project SOaR™, please visit SOaR™ or call the Celebrate Freedom Foundation at (803) 708-4752, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, or e-mail

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