December 20, 2006 Edition

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875th flooded with holiday good will

Holiday good will, in the form of cards letters and packages, is unloaded from a truck in front of the headquarters building of the Arkansas Army National Guard's 875th Engineer Battalion at Camp Striker, Iraq. Spc. Alvin Lewis of Hoxie shows his holiday spirit while helping to stack packages from supporters back home
U.S. Army Photo ~ Staff Sgt. Chris A. Durney, 875th Engineer Battalion Public Affairs

Soldiers of the Arkansas Army National Guard's 875th Engineer Battalion are spending the holidays far from home this year, but thanks to the U.S. Postal Service, home is only a package or letter away.

Seven days a week, each of the battalion's mail clerks pick up and distribute, literally mounds of cards, letters and packages to over 500 soldiers serving in Baghdad and Balad. The holiday season has brought a marked increase in the amount of good will sent from supporters all over the United States.

"It's such a joy to see the stacks of boxes translated into smiles and laughter," says battalion chaplain Capt. Mark Golaway. "I don't think those at home realize that their thoughtfulness is so meaningful."

According to Golaway, care packages from various organizations and groups have come through his office and are being distributed to troops spending Christmas and New Year's Day away from loved ones.

"We've received boxes from the Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, the VFW and Family Readiness Groups in Arkansas, Vermont and Indiana, just to name a few," he said. "The amount of support and care we're receiving is astounding."

The 875th is about three months into a yearlong deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Jonesboro based unit was mobilized in March and includes troops from the Vermont Army National Guard's 131st Engineer Company and the Indiana Army National Guard's 1313th Engineer Company.

"The level of support we see from home is always high, but lately it has been amazing," said Lt. Col. Patricia Anslow, commander of the 875th. "We are so very grateful to our families in Arkansas, Vermont and Indiana and to all of the patriots back home who are thinking about us this year."

Among the stacks of care packages are boxes containing over 500 Christmas stockings, one for each of the 875th's soldiers. The Northeast Arkansas chapter of Soldier's Angels sent the special stockings, and according to Angel member Debbie Johnson, each was filled with non-perishable items by Girl and Cub Scout troops, a local soccer association and members of the Jonesboro community.

"Being away from friends and family is always difficult for soldiers, but being gone during this special time of year is even more so," said Golaway. "The care packages are helping to fill a void in our lives and are keeping us connected with home."

Family members of Lawrence County members of the 875th are among those sending care packages. Margaret Jordan, who is organizing the effort, said two shipments of 10 boxes have already been sent since the unit deployed, and another shipment is set to go out at the first of the year.

Jordan said community churches and individuals have been wonderful about donating items for the local members of the 875th. Items can be dropped off at Black and Fowler in Hoxie or at Downing's Tax Service in Walnut Ridge. Jordan can be reached at 809-1730.

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