Making an Impact In Laos: The Early Days

“Where is the rest of the bone jarring road?” I wondered. It had only been 14 months since my
last visit and now the road to Ban Nahom was paved halfway to the village. Progress – and so

My “Impact Laos” team members and I were returning to Ban Nahom village to fulfill our vision.
The vision was spawned 14 months before when I searched for my fathers crash site.

You may recall, my dad, Maj. Edward M. Hudgens was an A-1 pilot on a search and rescue
mission for two downed F4 pilots in the Mu Gia region. As he was returning to Nakhom Phanom,
his tail section blew off. His plane crashed into the side of a karst 45-minute hike from Ban
Nahom village.

When I returned home from Ban Nahom in Oct 2002, I formed a team of friends from my church.
Team members included fellow TLCB member Bill Brown (stationed, ironically, at NKP the same
time as my Dad), his brother Bob, dentist Greg Armi, Jeff Meyer, Ken Macon, Jeff von Richter
and me. Supporting us from North by Northeast Tours was Montri, Sak and John Learned.

We finalized the vision and formulated a plan. We wanted to make an impact on poverty stricken
Ban Nahom and surrounding villages. We decided to call it “Impact Laos”. Our overall objectives
were to focus on dental/medical needs and to help the kids and villagers in Ban Nahom and
surrounding area.

The goals of this particular trip were to evaluate the dental needs of the kids, build a concrete
school floor, procure and deliver helpful items like blankets, shoes, soap, shampoo, toothbrushes,
toothpaste, school books, school and medical supplies.

I also felt it was important to involve those who fought in the war. I approached both the A-1
Skyraiders Association and TLCB during the October reunions about participating in the project.
Both enthusiastically agreed and donated funds towards the project.


After a night in Bangkok and an early flight to NKP we visited the old base. Bill was looking for
the old putting green he had built in 1969. We didn’t find it (how do you loose a putting green?). I
had learned the exact location of my Dads hooch at the A-1 reunion. We found it but there was
not much left but the foundation.

We met TLCB member John Middelwood and his wife at dinner near the night market. After
dinner, a few of the guys headed off the check out the night market where they dined on a few
beetles, silkworms and grubs! Sadly, I was in heavy discussion with John and was unable to


The next day we crossed the Mekong River, entered Laos and drove a not-so-bumpy four hours
to Ban Nahom. Everywhere we went, we were the center of attention. We started taking pictures
of the kids then flipped the digital camera around to show them the photo. The joy it gave the
kids and adults was addicting and this practice continued for our entire stay.

After a wonderful dinner cooked by Montri and a meeting with the local and District leaders, it was
off to bed.


The next morning we began our first day of activities in Ban Nahom. Bothers Bill and Bob Brown
entertained the kids with a homemade box hockey game and by making bamboo hula-hoops.
Seventy-one year old Bob even road a bicycle backwards!

Then it was on to building a cement schoolroom floor funded by TLCB. To get water to the
school for the cement, women and girls four years or older, carried water from the riverbed to the
school, up a 40-foot embankment and 200 yards to barrels outside of the school. Inside, Bill and
Bob taught the locals and us “Farangs” (westerners) how to lay concrete. We were amazed at
the tenacity of the Brown brothers.

John Learned was a welcomed surprise member to our group. John is part of North by Northeast
tours and set up a small medical center for minor medical issues.

During floor construction, we set up a dental clinic. Dentist Greg and his assistant Jeff Meyer
performed dental assessments and cleanings on the village children. They showed the kids
proper brushing techniques and introduced flossing – an unheard of practice. Following their
dental exam, patients received a new toothbrush, bracelet or toy and a Polaroid picture with the
dentist. The prized pictures were a big hit as this would be their first ever.

Dr Greg also treated several dental conditions in some adults. These included one nighttime
wisdom tooth extractions using only a headlamp for illumination. In all, Greg and Jeff saw over
70 kids and 20 adults. What an accomplishment!


The next day’s objective was to complete the school floor. The first day it took almost the entire
day to complete a little more than 1/3 the floor. By the second day, we had the system down and
completed the floor after lunch. The first day, we were very hands on but by the second day, the
last few sections of concrete were being laid entirely by the villagers.


The final day’s agenda included distribution of supplies and a trip to my fathers crash site.

The team distributed supplies to each head of family. Each family received sleeping mats,
blankets, shoes, soap, shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste. The recipient’s appreciation is
almost too hard to articulate.

Each student received notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers, pencil sharpeners and a prized school
uniform. The youngest were so precious. Their little “praying hands” and “Khop Jai” “thank yous”
were too cute.

We also purchased schoolbooks for grades 1 thru 5 and distributed them to the Ban Nahom
School (Grades 1 thru 3) and the Ban Thongkham school (Grades 3-5). In addition, we shared
some of the supplies and medicines with the two neighboring villages of Ban Thongkham and
Ban Nachat.

A group of thirty or so villagers and team members made the 45-minute hike to my dad’s crash
site. We mounted a memorial plaque onto a prominent rock. This rock prevented many of my
father’s remains from being washed down the side of the mountain. It was here the JTFA found
most of my dad’s remains here including his identifying tooth.

While the plaque was being mounted, I stole a few moments by myself. I thought of my Dad, I
thought of what we had just accomplished in the village, I thought of all the people who made it
possible. From North by Northeast Tours to the A-1 Skyraiders Association and the Thailand
Laos and Cambodia Brotherhood, our co-workers, family, friends and wives, the Impact Laos
team received a tremendous amount of support. Without all of them, this trip would never have
been possible.

A vision that was spawned 14 months ago was complete for this trip. We will be back. We made
a difference. We We will continue to Impact Laos.

I knew my Dad would be proud of us all.