Kentucky Communities Support Hometown Troops in Iraq
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 10, 2005 When the Kentucky Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 623rd Field Artillery, was activated to deploy to Iraq in November 2004, citizens in the soldier's communities banded together to shower them with support.
Ten months later, the communities are still showering their citizen-soldiers with support.
People in the rural communities of Glasgow, Tompkinsville and surrounding counties started supporting the soldiers when the unit was in an eight-week training program at Fort Dix, N.J. Soldiers who could afford it had the option to come home for a week during the 2004 Christmas holiday season before leaving for Iraq.
It took only two weeks for the communities to raise more than $70,000 to bring 182 soldiers home to spend the holidays with their loved ones before going off to war, Louise Firkins, secretary of the Tompkinsville Family Readiness Group, said. Her son, Army Spc. Sammy Firkins, is with the unit in Iraq working at the Abu Ghraib prison. Community members paid for four buses to be chartered and each soldier to receive $50 for travel expenses, Firkins noted.
Members of the community decided bringing the soldiers home for Christmas wasn't enough, and they kept on giving.
Firkins pointed out that the citizens of the region are far from affluent. They come from a towns ranging from 1,987 to 25,000 people. "The workforce is primarily agricultural related and manufacturing," she noted. "Many of the manufacturing companies recently went out of business leaving our people without jobs, but they still give for our soldiers."
Since the soldiers have been in Iraq, Kentucky citizens have raised money for such things as Internet service, walk-around radios and other supplies, Firkins said. They've also taken care packages to a different level. In addition to sending things like cookies, candy, toothbrushes and socks, they've added such items as crock pots, beans and cornbread.
In an e-mail interview from Iraq, the unit commander, Capt. John H. Holmes Jr., said constantly receiving packages of goodies from their communities back home is an incalculable boost to morale for troops on the battlefields of Iraq. "My soldiers get extremely excited about the support we have received and the recognition from their home communities," he said.
He said the crock pots and pinto beans with other fixings give the troops the chance to have breaks from eating dining-facility food and are a reminder of home when things get tiresome. After receiving the beans, Holmes wrote to Firkins: "We even get soldiers from other units who stop by to eat beans and cornbread with us. This is one of the best things you've done for us."
Holmes said he's absolutely elated by the support the communities are providing his outfit in Iraq. "It's not only speaks about our community, but it is a reflection on the quality of soldier I have been chosen to command," he said. "Communities that support soldiers teach, at an early age, the values of duty, honor and selfless service."
The communities also send goodies for the troops to give to Iraqi children. Care packages for Iraqi children include pencils, paper, crayons, coloring books, book bags, ink pens, scissors, shoes, soccer balls, hair barrettes and bows, dolls, dresses and teddy bears.
At one location, the unit adopted a school in Iraq. "We went out weekly to check on their needs," Holmes said. "Although it began as an engineering project, we turned it into a children's project.
"Iraqi children can't attend school if they don't have something to write with," Holmes said of the supplies his soldiers provided.
"The children here love soccer and often don't have anything to play the sport," Holmes noted. "We received over 40 soccer balls, from different sources, to take to the school."
Some women in the Kentucky communities wanted to do something special for the Iraqi girls, so they collected dolls, soaps and shampoos, and hair decorations to make the girls feel special, Holmes said. "The girls here, like in several other Middle Eastern cultures, are not treated well," the captain said. "We took the items to the school, and the girls loved them."