“The Army takes care of its own.” It’s a truth I’ve discovered personally in my years of coordinating the 3rd Infantry Division’s Adopt-a-Soldier program. There are few situations when a soldier or his family slips through the safety net the military has in place. So in the rare instance when the U.S. Army shyly asks for our help, you can bet it’s important.
Last week an e-mail from Staff Sgt. Phillip Phinisee slipped into my inbox. Phinisee is vice president of the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program (BOSS) at Ft. Stewart. “The reason I am contacting you is to ask for assistance with our latest mission of welcoming the Single Soldiers home,” he wrote. “How can we help?” I answered.
When a single soldier returns from 12 months in combat, he gets off the plane at Hunter Army Air Field in Savannah, boards a bus with his fellow troops and heads for Ft. Stewart. Upon arrival, he marches in formation across Cottrell Field, where crowds of cheering families wait in the bleachers. Once the formalities are over, he is mobbed by his family.
Or not. Sometimes no one is there to meet him. After the ceremony concludes, the single soldier goes to the barracks and opens the door onto an empty room – a bare bones empty room. There are clean sheets on his bed, but that’s about it. His personal things were put in storage 12 months ago. His car, if he owns one, is stashed with friends or family far away.
He’s weary. Several days of travel have passed since he left his base in Iraq or Afghanistan. His bags might contain the soap and toothbrush he needs to get clean, but the essentials are buried deep in his duffels.
That’s where BOSS steps in, or did in years past. A gift bag waited on the dresser, containing basic toiletries and a bit of candy – and maybe a printed note of welcome. But times are lean, and the Army has eliminated funding for this small comfort.
The 1st and 2nd Brigade Combat Teams from Ft. Stewart have been in Iraq for a year. The Combat Aviation Brigade from Hunter Army Air Field has been in Afghanistan since last October. Now they’re coming home. Thousands of them will be flying into Hunter beginning in October, and the planes won’t stop coming until Christmas. Among them will be 3,500 single soldiers.
“Could your adopt-a-soldier volunteers help,” Phinisee wanted to know, “with gift bags for the unmarried troops?”
Very few of us ever get to welcome a soldier home, to say a word of appreciation when he’s just set foot on American soil. But Phinisee has offered the civilian community a simple way to ease the lonely homecoming for our single troops. Want to help? Here’s what they need: razors, shaving cream, soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, hand sanitizer and candy.
Make your bag as fancy as you wish or simply tie the items up in a plastic grocery bag. And if you’re so moved, a handwritten note of gratitude would mean more than you know to the soldier reading it.
If you live in Savannah, Richmond Hill, Rincon, Hilton Head, Bluffton or Beaufort, you can drop off your items at any Walgreens pharmacy. If you live in Hinesville, both of the Dollar General stores will accept your donations. There will be a large box labeled “Operation Welcome Home” at every location. If you live somewhere else in Georgia – or the U.S. – and are reading these words, send your donations to the address below:
Ft. Stewart FMWR, Attn.: BOSS Program, 1639 Gulick Ave., Bldg. 703, Suite 100, Ft. Stewart, GA 31314. They will accept checks made out to BOSS, but it’s more fun to shop.
Yes, Staff Sgt. Phinisee, we are honored to help. We know that every soldier needs a hug when he or she gets home from combat.
Even if it’s tucked into a gift bag.
Megathlin is coordinator of the Adopt-A-Soldier program.