Events

July 16, 2014

Dragons in the Mojave Desert

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Linda KC Reynolds
staff writer

Crushing grapes like Lucy. The Dragons – Canadians, Cate Emond, Saskia Harvey Francis, Suzanne Johnson and Verena Beaulah from Great Britain join Marlies Van de Pol from the Netherlands to enjoy a little wine and fellowship with Steve Wizan, manager of Agua Dulce Winery. The ladies are a part of an unofficial aerospace welcoming group that was formed to help more than 400 foreign families transition to the Antelope Valley.

Aviation affiliated families from Europe and Canada have been coming to the Antelope Valley for quite some time to pursue careers and education at The Mojave National Test Pilot School and USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, but what about family members who accompany them?

Where do the children attend school and be accepted, treated warmly and educated at their level, while trying to master the English language?

How can you have a child’s birthday party when friends and family are a thousand miles away? Where do you buy your favorite treats such as scones and crackers? How do find the local pub?

You call on the Dragons! Not the fire breathing, winged dragons, but the helpful two-legged kind.

Last April, eight foreign women were having high tea while celebrating one of the most prominent military saints: St. George and the Dragon.

New to the area, they discussed challenges and shared what they did to make moving and living adjustments easier. Knowing that more than 400 more families would be arriving in the Antelope Valley soon, they came up with a plan to help others avoid their frustrations. They formed a Facebook group, “The Dragons” and now have more than 50 members. It is a select group of adventurous woman, and new people must be invited by an established member.

“I was quite fortunate when I arrived,” explained Amy Beck from Cambridgeshire, England. “A lot of the quirks were figured out by the Dragons who came before me.”

Her husband James, an F-35 pilot, left for Florida to attend training one week after she arrived with their children, Charlotte, 7, and son Oliver, 5. When the Beck family arrived, “the word got out and everyone came together to help settle us in. I don’t know how I would have managed without the Dragons,” said Mrs. Beck. She didn’t complain, many of her friends are stationed overseas and in Afghanistan. Her husband was far from their new home, but he was safe and she was surrounded by new, wonderful friends.

The Dragon mission statement: A group to welcome and meet-up with other foreign spouses in the AV aviation community. It is a support network, your family away from home for the duration of your posting- to help you explore the area, improve your English, celebrate birthdays or just to provide friendly company for a walk or coffee. We encourage multinational events and welcome all to join in.

Saskia Harvey Francis, Verena Beaulah and Marlies Van de Pol have a little fun at the Agua Dulce Winery before Francis and her husband Paul, a National Test Pilot student and helicopter pilot, transfer back to Canada. More than 400 families are expected to come to the Antelope Valley this summer for the aerospace industry.

Marlies Van de Pol from the Netherlands was quite excited to start the group.

“We don’t talk about our husbands, rank does not matter, where you’re from does not matter. We just have fun hanging out with like-minded people,” said Van de Pol. When a Dragon gets an idea for an activity, they post it and anybody from the group who wants to join in is welcome. Her husband, Martin, is a USAF TPS graduate and Dutch test pilot.

The diverse group consists of stay at home moms, secretaries, accountants, teachers, chefs, nurses and more. About once a week the ladies try to get together for some type of activity. So far they have visited Hollywood, Red Rock Canyon, Black Bird Airpark, Poppy Reserve, Agua Dulce Winery and are always looking for something new to discover.

“We would like to do something for the community, maybe help with the Edwards museum,” said Van de Pol. “We want to enjoy our time and do as much as possible while we are here.”

They would also like tour the Dragon at SpaceX in Los Angeles and meet CEO Elon Musk. Scaled Composites and other aerospace companies are on their list to visit, and of course, running into Sir Richard Branson would be a nice bonus.

For more information contact Marlies at writedragongroup@gmail.com.




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