Project Kester: Maintenance family cares for their own

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Bradley Tipton
  • 927th Air Refueling Wing

Airmen and their families from the 927th Air Refueling Wing, 927th and 6th Maintenance Group alongside volunteers from the non-profit organization Believe With Me joined forces April 29, 2023, and converged at the family home of fallen Citizen Airman Senior Airman Mahlon Kester, 927th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron fuel cell technician.

Lacing up boots and putting on gloves, volunteers set out to complete the transformation from the family house into a home — one with the necessities for outdoor enjoyment and recreation. Some constructed play equipment, while others planted low-maintenance trees and foliage. By project completion, the team had even installed a new front lawn.

“They’ve taken care to make everything very low maintenance for her,” said Mary Milliron, mother of Melanie Kester, Senior Airman Kester's wife. “They even put in an irrigation system so that she doesn’t have to come outside and spend time watering. It’s more than just showing up and planting grass, they have really thought everything through. It’s incredible.”

Senior Airman Mahlon Kester was tragically killed in an off-duty motorcycle accident in 2022. A swell of support from the total force community came in the aftermath of Kester's accident and the focus has been on ensuring Melanie and daughter Oakley have all the essentials. From the time in the hospital to the weeks and months following, everyone from Kester’s colleagues and supervisors to senior leaders banded together to ensure access to resources and information.

“There has not been a week where I haven’t heard from someone in the Air Force,” said Melanie Kester. “They even started a college fund for Oakley. They’ve invested in our future and it’s astonishing to me how present they’ve been through all of this.”

Project Kester, the joint effort to update the family's home exterior, was made possible by 927th ARW Honorary Commander and ASI Landscaping CEO Joe Chiellini and his wife Audra, who coordinated with Lynette Reback of the Believe With Me non-profit organization to provide supplies and volunteers. For the maintainers in attendance, the day is just one of many future engagements, as the Kesters are part of the larger maintenance family.

"This kid was an amazing individual and did so much for his church, community, and family," said Senior Master Sgt. Kevin McGrath, 927th Maintenance Group quality assurance superintendent. "From the onset of learning of his accident, our Squadron, Group, and Wing came together in a way I have never seen before. From the guys and girls in the shop showing support at the hospital, to everyone donating time and money to accommodate housing and transportation for the out of state family to attend the funeral...everyone stepped up!"