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Myers' Mideast Trip Cheers Troops Before Christmas

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

EN ROUTE TO WASHINGTON FROM THE MIDDLE EAST, Dec. 23, 2001 --, Dec. 26, 2001 – Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, today seemed determined to visit with every U.S. service member stationed in the Middle East before he returned to Washington.

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Air Force Staff Sgt. Tonya, right, Senior Master Sgt. Andy, Capt. Jim, and Senior Master Sgt. Marc examine a banner with hand-written good wishes sent from people at Shaw Air Force, S.C., Dec. 23 at a military installation in the Middle East. (Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore)
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Two days before Christmas, Myers, accompanied by his wife, Mary Jo, flew from Doha, Qatar, to Kuwait City, Kuwait. He then flew north by UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter escort to visit Army troops stationed at the "Virginia" encampment, located just 10 kilometers from the Iraqi border with Kuwait. Virginia has sister camps in Kuwait: "Pennsylvania," and "New York," where terrorist activity also took place on Sept. 11.

After leaving Kuwait, Myers then visited with more American troops at undisclosed locations in the Middle East.

With rotors beating a tattoo against the wind, the helicopters quickly crossed Kuwait City's tableau of whitewashed stucco, which vanished at city limits into a vast sea of sand. A few miles before Virginia, left-window passengers were stirred at the sight of a huge square of burnt, twisted metal.

This, explained Blackhawk crewman Sgt. Johnny, a Wisconsin National Guardsman, was Iraqi military equipment blasted by U.S. troops and allies as the Iraqis retreated north from Kuwait late in the 1990-91 Gulf War. Service members' first names only are used for reasons of security.

Awaiting the general at Virginia were scores of American soldiers dressed in brown-and-sand colored desert "cammies," tan suede boots, and wide-brimmed, desert "boonie" hats.

The troops seemed gratified that Myers made the trip to see them just before Christmas. "That was a nice gesture of him to come out here and see all the soldiers while we're out here. I appreciate it," said Sgt. Gregory.

The general "could be at home with his family," Gregory noted, "but he brought his family to be with us. It's pretty cool."

After talking to troops and inspecting some military equipment, Myers headed indoors, to participate in a holiday "grab bag" gift exchange. Myers told the troops that he and his wife were in Kuwait "just to say thanks for what you're doing, especially at this time of year when you're away from your families."

After wishing the troops a Merry Christmas, Myers told them "the people back home really, really appreciate the sacrifices that you're making. We all appreciate what you do." A local American couple, Lionel and Sheila Gittens, who run a business in Kuwait City, sponsor the service member gift program. Over 50,000 gifts donated by local U.S. and Kuwaiti businessmen were individually wrapped and put into nearly 10,000 bags. Every service member in Kuwait would receive one.

"We just wanted to do something" for U.S. troops from all the services serving in Kuwait, Sheila said. They started the program in 1994, she said, in the memory of their son, Darnell, who died that year at age 27.

Thanks to the Gittens' -- and others' -- generosity, soldiers at the Virginia encampment received colorful Kuwaiti-style woven bags filled with baseball caps, video games, calendars and more.

As a big smile spread across his face, Army Spc. Jose removed a ball cap, flashlight, rubber ball and more from his grab bag of woven red yarn. "I like this a lot; it's good for morale," said Jose in praise of the Gittens' program.

Standing next to Jose, Sgts. Allen and Gregory were also examining their gift bags, and smiling, as they retrieved gifts. "This [gift program] is a good thing for us, because we're away from our families at this time of year. It was good timing, actually," Allen said, noting that he and his compatriots had been deployed to the camp in early November. However, he added, the threesome had already served in the region for training from May to August, before the 9-11 terrorist attacks prompted their recall.

Allen said he wasn't thrilled to return to Kuwait so soon, but was philosophical about the situation. "But, hey, it's our job … you've got to do what you've got to do," he noted.

Gregory remarked that "terrorism has to be stopped." That's why, he said, U.S. troops are in Kuwait.

Myers went on from the Virginia encampment to visit more American troops at another post located in the Mideast that supports Operation Enduring Freedom.

There, Air Force Staff Sgt. Tonya said she has a 7-year-old daughter waiting for her return. Yet, Tonya said, "Things aren't so bad," because she can e-mail and phone home regularly.

Regarding Myers' visit, Tonya said, "I think it's very good. Somebody is actually coming over here to support us and show us that they care." The installation commander , a U.S. Air Force lieutenant general, pointed out the French, British and Canadian military members assist him in Operation Enduring Freedom.

It was good, the general noted, for Myers to see the troops before Christmas and to see operations firsthand.

The chairman had been on the road since Dec. 17. His first stop was Brussels, Belgium, to attend two-days of NATO meetings. He then headed to the Mideast and elsewhere to visit troops deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Myers returned to the Pentagon Dec. 24.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAmerican businesswoman Sheila Gittens presents Army soldiers Sgts. Allen (middle) and Gregory colorful woven-yarn Kuwaiti bags filled with “grab-bag” Christmas gifts Dec. 23 at the “Virginia” encampment located about 10 kilometers from Kuwait’s border with Iraq. Gittens and her husband, Lionel, operate a business in Kuwait City. Each year, they sponsor a Christmas gift program for U.S troops stationed in Kuwait. (Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore)   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAir Force Staff Sgt. Tonya, right, Senior Master Sgt. Andy, Capt. Jim, and Senior Master Sgt. Marc examine a banner with hand-written good wishes sent from people at Shaw Air Force, S.C., Dec. 23 at a military installation in the Middle East. (Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore)  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAir Force Staff Sgt. Tonya, right, Senior Master Sgt. Andy, Capt. Jim, and Senior Master Sgt. Marc examine a banner with hand-written good wishes sent from people at Shaw Air Force, S.C., Dec. 23 at a military installation in the Middle East. (Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore)  
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