EDITOR'S NOTE: The Columbia County News-Times begins a four-part series in today's edition examining the war in Iraq and how Columbia County is responding more than three years after the war began.
Command Sgt. Maj. Leon Green, of Fort Gordon's 63rd Signal Battalion, remembers his time overseas as sandy and dry.
"Everything is hot over there," said Green, a Grovetown resident who is one of the commanders of the battalion that returned from Kuwait and Iraq on Jan. 19, after a yearlong deployment. "It's a desert environment. You don't have the luxuries that you have here."
And although the Army takes care of soldiers' needs, Green said, it's the things they don't necessarily need that make a big difference in such an environment.
"Care packages just assist to give soldiers something closer to home to pretty much appreciate," Green said.
Since the war in Iraq began slightly more than three years ago, some Columbia County groups have been there to lend that helping hand. It's a move that continues today, including efforts by a Harlem church and a group of Grovetown volunteers who are looking to renew the efforts of a late councilwoman.
These groups supply care packages to troops throughout the Middle East, which as of March 31 numbered more than 235,000 as part of the global war on terrorism, said a Department of Defense spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Barry Venable.
Of that number, 133,000 troops are stationed in Iraq, 23,000 in Kuwait and nearly 80,000 more troops are in various other places within the region, Venable said.
"What the troops need most is for the people back home to support the mission, because it is the nation's mission that they are accomplishing," Venable said. "What the mission is and the way they are accomplishing it over there is exactly why Americans can go about their daily lives free from terrorist strikes and any significant threats of that kind since Sept. 11, 2001."
Adams 'really cared'
Former Grovetown City Councilwoman Marjorie Adams, who died in February, supported troops by making sure they were as comfortable and prepared as they could be.
Married to a military man, Adams watched her husband, Hoyt, go off for two tours of duty in the Vietnam War.
"Because of him, when he was over in Vietnam and them being military all those years, it makes you a little more, not (just) patriotic, but it makes you feel closer to them," said Vicky Capetillo, who helped Adams in a nearly two-year campaign to send care packages to isolated units.
Capetillo said she and Adams sent thousands of care packages to units such as the 17th Signal Brigade, a unit from a U.S.-German installation deactivated in early December.
The packages contained toiletries such as lip balm, toothbrushes, shaving cream, feminine hygiene products, eye drops, T-shirts, socks and underwear. Adams also collected monetary donations to buy prepaid phone cards, sporting equipment, games, cards, paper, pens and candy for the packages.
"She really cared for them and wanted to make sure if there was something she could do, that she was doing it," Capetillo said.
A few city employees are trying to restart Adams' efforts, Capetillo said.
Cleveland McMahan, a retired Army sergeant from Grovetown, served in Taiwan, Germany and Korea and said he remembers how the occasional cookie from home and Red Cross cup of coffee were the only things soldiers received. He helped Adams raise money for care packages and postage because he said he believes the care packages are good for troops' morale.
Marla Jones, a Fort Gordon spokeswoman, said all of Fort Gordon's 1,200 deployed soldiers have now returned. The 297th Military Intelligence Battalion returned in November. The 63rd Signal Battalion returned from Kuwait and Iraq in January. The 249th General Hospital unit, deployed to Afghanistan, returned in February. But the 93rd Signal Brigade might soon deploy another unit, she said.
Jones said only mail designated for a particular unit or soldier can be sent. But she suggested visiting www.army.mil to find a unit to support.
"And certainly, if anybody has a neighbor or maybe a school that has parents deployed, they can specifically ask them what they might need," Jones said. "Writing letters is good because it shows that they have support and people care over here."
Students send help
Students, faculty and parents of Augusta Christian Schools in Martinez showed their support by sending care packages to the 63rd Signal Battalion's 350 soldiers during the Christmas season.
Lt. Col. Robert Barker, the unit's commander, and Col. David E. Dodd, commander of the 93rd Signal Brigade, thanked Augusta Christian students in a visit Thursday.
"The hardest thing to get is reading material," Barker said, adding that recreational and leisure equipment such as sporting equipment, games, VCR tapes, books and magazines are always popular. "There's no place to go and you can only run so many laps around the compound. Everybody likes opening and reading them."
The Rev. Roger Vest, the pastor of Harlem United Methodist Church, sends area soldiers weekly bulletins and monthly newsletters to help keep them in touch with home.
The church also sends care packages at least two or three times a year, usually to specific soldiers, and accepts donations.
"So we'll let all of our soldiers know if you see anybody that is not getting anything, let us know and we'll start sending them care packages as well," Vest said.
Church secretary Debbie Nunley said she was relieved when her son, Daniel Hewett, returned to Fort Hood, Texas, in early 2005, after serving nearly 16 months in Iraq.
While he was there, Nunley said she sent regular care packages that included individual servings of powdered Gatorade, trail mix, fingertip toothbrushes and individual wet napkins.
"Those guys are out there and they don't have access; they want to feel clean," she said.
Green said cotton swabs, eye drops and sunglasses are always appreciated. Barker added that toothbrushes and lip balm are hard to come by.
Venable said the Web site www.americasupportsyou.mil provides ways to support disabled, wounded and deployed soldiers and their families.
But it is what's going on at home that Barker said can comfort soldiers the most.
"The soldiers really like someone showing them they remember them," Barker said, adding that soldiers love to hear their families are being taken care of. "Something that doesn't happen as much is doing something for the families back home, because they seem to get forgotten about.''
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