By Karen L. Willoughby, Managing Editor
FORT POLK – At least 90 soldiers returning from Afghanistan this month will sleep easy, their first nights back home in America.[img_assist|nid=7648|title=Sheets for Soldiers|desc=Threcia Green buys sheets for First Baptist Dry Prong, which took up a special offering and donated $350 to the Sheets for Soldiers project.|link=none|align=left|width=478|height=640]
No sand. No bullets. No bombs. Just new sheets, provided through the efforts of Charleen Kennedy, a member of Calvary Baptist Church in Alexandria.
“I am thrilled that God blessed us so much,” Kennedy said. “We were able to meet a very specific need for our troops returning home.”
The Army provides items such as a bunk, desk and chair for returning soldiers who stay in barracks. No linens. No pillows. Nothing “personal.”
“If you are wondering why the military does not supply the sheets, sheets are a personal item,” Kennedy emailed in her plea for sheets. “If you are wondering why the soldiers do not have their items: They will arrive before their gear and they will not have full size sheets. They usually only have twin size. And, 90 of the soldiers will be housed in barracks that have full-size beds.”
When troops are deployed overseas, all the possessions of those living in barracks that they are not taking with them are secured until they return, explained Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Lisa Rickard, volunteer advisor for the Family Readiness Group at Fort Polk. Because of the mass influx of returning soldiers, it takes “a few days” to retrieve their belongings.
“A few months ago, one of my husband’s comrades was transported to a military hospital in Germany,” Kennedy emailed. “The entire time he was in the hospital, he never had sheets, towels, or a pillow. He had to use his t-shirt to dry and never had linens. This incident disturbed me. … That is why I am so passionate about this request.”
First Baptist Church of Dry Prong took up a special offering and donated $350. That purchased 24 sets of sheets. The others came from individuals, one, two or more sets at a time, including 10 sets from Barett Byrd, a retired Marine colonel.
“As a Winter Ranger and Force Recon Marine, I could make some chuckles about soldiers needing sheets, but I’m from the ‘old school,’ <grin>,” Byrd said. “Do they need just regular sheets or should I be looking for ‘Sponge Bob’ or other action heroes? Sorry, couldn’t help it. <grin>
“Bottom line: put us down for 10 sets, Michele and I,” Byrd continued. “It was an honor to serve and it’s an honor to help those who serve today. Ooorah! (That is Marine-speak for ‘hoo-ah.’)”
The Family Readiness Group at Fort Polk (and all Army posts) exists to assist families and soldiers with a myriad of issues, including legal, financial or family-member issues.
“Typically it’s geared more towards the married soldiers,” Rickard said. “However, we extend that to ‘a soldier is a soldier.’”
When Rickard realized Wednesday, Sept. 21, that 90 soldiers to be housed in the barracks would be returning throughout the month of October to beds but no sheets, she responded with a call for 90 sets of sheets to a “Let me know whenever you have a need” request that she’d been given earlier.
Kennedy received a subsequent email later that day. She checked it out by forwarding it to a friend whose husband was in that unit. He forwarded it to his battalion commander, Tom Rickard. Soon after Lisa Rickard and Kennedy talked, the Calvary Alexandria member spun into action – emailing, calling, pleading for sheets – and her living room began to fill. Within two days, she had amassed 90 sets of sheets.
“I was amazed; these were nice sheets!” Rickard said. “They were sheets I’d want on my bed – nice thread count, good quality. … I really appreciated that. It was, ‘Wow, this would be nice to come home to!’ You’re not coming home to an empty barren room. You’re coming home to a piece of home.
“I can’t say enough about Charleen,” Rickard added. “She is a phenomenal woman.”
Others throughout the community helped; one woman made pillows. However, Rickard credits Kennedy with single-handedly collecting the last 90 sets of sheets so every soldier in the barracks would have bed linens.
“I reached out to organizations, friends, family and Sunday School classes; and First Baptist Church of Dry Prong also responded,” Kennedy said. “It was a blessing for our community to reach out to our troops coming home from Afghanistan, and in my heart, this reached very close to home for me with my husband John being deployed to the Middle East.”
It was a blessing for the soldiers to be welcomed home, Rickard said.
“Traumatic brain injuries, feelings of isolation and suicide prevention efforts are such issues now,” she said. “They have so many issues on their plate. … For them to come in their barracks to a made bed, clean room, pillows, a nice little packet with personal hygiene items – they come back feeling cared about.
“They have given so much,” Rickard continued. “Freedom isn’t free. They have been working seven days a week for an entire year. To be able to come back and feel some appreciation, and feel wanted and loved in their community means a whole bunch. It’s a piece of home, provided by the community.”
Another group of soldiers is returning home in December. They too will need bed linens, Rickard said. (The base’s Morale and Welfare group provides hygiene kits.) Kennedy has offered to collect sheets and pillows, and to take them to Fort Polk. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.