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Monday, Nov. 24, 2014

Guard families feel community spirit

Sunday, December 2, 2007

(Photo)
Families of the 2nd Battalion of the 150th Field Artillery show off teddy bears made during Sunday's Breakfast with Santa at the Greencastle National Guard Armory. Members of the unit are headed to Iraq in January 2008.
Greencastle's National Guard Armory was filled with soldiers in battle dress, parents, husbands, wives and children on Sunday.

They laughed over stacks of waffles, hot coffee, and rows of presents and waited in line for a conference with Santa Claus.

Sunday morning marked "Breakfast with Santa" for the families of the 2nd Battalion of the 150th Field Artillery National Guard unit, many of whom are headed straight for Iraq.

(Photo)
E4 Specialist Leo Kent and five-year-old Kaleb participate in the "Build-A-Bear" event, during Sunday's Breakfast with Santa at the Greencastle National Guard Armory. Members of the local National Guard Unit are headed to Iraq in January 2008.
"This is the first time that members of the community have stepped from behind the curtain to help local members of the armed forces," observed Readiness Non-Commissioned Officer and Greencastle Armory Manager Roy Buchanan.

"The women of the Putnam County Homemakers made us their mission. They adopted us and they are going all out," Buchanan said.

The nearly 250 club members of the Putnam County Extension Homemakers joined forces with the local Family Readiness Group to sponsor the event, whose leadership works year round to support the families left behind when National Guard soldiers are sent to war.

The event included pictures with Santa, door prizes, a silent auction, 50/50 drawing, activities for children and a rare moment of community outreach to a military unit whose members are gearing up for another long deployment overseas.

The homemakers say that raising money for the cause took almost no time at all.

"We raised the money in about two weeks," club member Judy Neel said. "I never had one person tell us no."

After a few trips to local businesses, word spread of the group's effort, and according to Neel, her phone began ringing and people began mailing her checks. In the end, the group raised $1,150 to put towards gifts and activities for the families of local National Guard soldiers.

"Whenever we hear of a need in the community, if it's something that our talents can support, we do it," said Betty Workman, president of the Extension Homemakers.

"We have a lot of members who appreciate what military families are giving our country," she added. "This was one small way we could give something back."

And the Guard members appreciated the effort.

"I've been in the National Guard for five years and I've never seen members of the community come out in these kind of numbers to support the troops," said 1st Lt. Richard Kerr, who returned from his first deployment to Iraq less than two years ago.

Though many of the troops slated to leave for Iraq are already gone on training missions, those in attendance said that Sunday's event is as much for families as it is for soldiers.

"It's always harder on the people we leave behind," Kerr said, sitting across the table from his wife Heather." When we're gone, we don't have to worry about them the way they worry about us."

The 2nd Battalion of the 150th Field Artillery had not been sent to battle overseas since World War II, said E4 Specialist Jerry Haltom, the unit public affairs officer. But battlefield deployments for National Guard units have stretched ranks thin throughout the country, particularly artillery units that are easily absorbed into infantry units or military police ranks.

A member of the local battalion since the 1980s, Haltom says the unit has been in a virtually constant state of deployment since war broke out in Iraq in 2003.

"When you're full time military, you expect long deployments," said Heather Kerr. "In the National Guard, you expect them to be deployed locally not to be gone for a year and a half."

Though the unit throws a Christmas party every year, many attending Sunday's event said that community involvement made this year special.

"They may not support the war, but they are supporting the soldiers. That's not something you've seen in years past," said Buchanan, who spent 12 months training Iraqi police in Mozel. "Sometimes the only thing you need is for someone to say thank you."

"This has been the best event we've ever done," said Pam Coons, vice-chair of the local Family Readiness Group. "We could not have done it with out them. I have a new respect for the women of Putnam County."

In the midst of the day's success, an exhausted Coons was already looking ahead to the next challenge and the next round of deployments that will send local soldiers to the deserts of Iraq this January.

Members of the Family Readiness Group will continue to raise funds year round to send care packages to local troops deployed in Iraq every month. They ship off snacks, shampoo, socks, deodorant, and letters -- anything that will bring soldiers even the smallest comforts of home.

"Now we will have to start all over again," Coons said, "raising money to send the boys what they need."

To contribute to this effort, the public can contact Judy Neel at 1330 E. CR 325 North, Greencastle, 46135, or call the Putnam County Extension Office at 653-8411.



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