By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia
Soldiers in "Operation Iraqi Freedom" from Georgia's Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Air Field will soon get shoe boxes from home through the efforts of 4-H'ers in, interestingly enough, Liberty County.
The shoe boxes are filled with much-needed personal care items, not shoes.
"Our soldiers have food and medical supplies," said Denise Everson, a University of Georgia Extension Service 4-H agent in Liberty County and coordinator of the statewide project.
Soldiers need sunscreen, chapstick
"Those things are obviously government issued," she said. "What they need are things like sunscreen, Chap Stick and toiletries that most of us take for granted here at home."
Everson has firsthand knowledge of what U.S. soldiers need. Fort Stewart is just a mile and a half from her office, and 75 percent of her 4-H'ers have a parent in the military.
"We are a military community," she said. "This project hit close to home for us and for our kids. We all know someone who is away from home because of the war. For me, it's my boss (Robert Bell, UGA Extension agriculture agent AG AGENT OR COUNTY EXTENSION COORDINATOR? in Liberty C county), who's stationed at Fort Stewart preparing reserve units for deployment to Iraq."
She says local soldiers are sending stories home about how "really, really cold; really, really sandy; and really, really hot" the conditions are in Iraq.
"They're also requesting soft bathroom tissue from home, which is a lot different from the government-issued tissue they get," Everson chuckled.
The soldiers also need handheld computer games and toiletries like toothpaste, deodorant and soap.
"The computer games are to help them pass the downtime that we don't see on news coverage," she said.
A community project that became a statewide project
The shoe box project began in March as the Liberty County 4-H'ers community service project for the month. Lori Purcell, program development coordinator for Georgia's Central District 4-H Office, was instrumental in transforming the project into a statewide 4-H project. As word of the project spread, students from across the state joined in to collect boxes in their counties, too.
On May 22, more than 400 shoe boxes were delivered to Fort Stewart's Army Community Services. And, over the past two months, more than 2,000 individual items have been delivered to Army Community Services and Southern Smiles, a nonprofit organization in the Savannah, Ga., home of Hunter. Army Community Services and Southern Smiles will make sure the boxes reach their intended destination.
"The shoe boxes are the perfect size, as they can be put on supply planes as there's room, a few here and a few there," said Everson."Medical and military supplies are obviously the top priority. With this project, we know the boxes are going to get to soldiers. And they're our soldiers."
It's not too late to participate in the shoe box project. If you are interested, contact Everson at (912)876-2133. Or e-mail her email@example.com.
"Most people are beginning to view the war as being over," Everson said. "In military communities like ours, we know the reality.(The soldiers) are still on a peace-keeping mission, and many will continue to be assigned to Iraq for the next five to 10 years."
Everson said the first wave of soldiers are expected to return to Liberty County in late summer, although no official dates have been announced at this time.
Next, Georgia's middle school 4-H'ers plan to write letters to Georgia soldiers.
"At our fall retreat, each 4-H'er will get a name of a soldier to write to," Everson said."And we know the soldiers will write back and send pictures. Some soldiers never get mail. This will really meet that need."
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)