Care packages support soldiers; groups support their families

Ashley Bolstad

Ashley Bolstad

Part 4 of in a series:- A soldier shipping out- A soldier in Iraq- A soldier home from war- Support groups help

Activated soldiers sacrifice their careers, personal time, and sometimes their lives for our country, but what about the families they leave behind who sacrifice a loved one?

Many parents or spouses of soldiers serving overseas join the company’s support group to help cope with the loss. The groups usually meet once or twice a month to talk about problems they are having, emotions, fears, thoughts, and the general experiences in daily life.

Every unit has a separate support group, making the groups smaller and more personal. The troops they support are in the same place doing missions together. These aspects were important to encouraging group members to share and relate to each other.

Kim Chase, an army sergeant of the national guard who served in the Persian Gulf War, belonged to the support group for the 740th national guard unit of Brookings while her husband was on active duty. She said that the support group helped when her husband was gone.

“Everyone at the meeting understands what you are going through, because they are going through it too,” she said.

Chase said that meetings also included making packages for the soldiers, planning events like fundraisers, community walks, potlucks, picnics and the homecoming. They also celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and calls from a commander.

Packages to the 740th in Iraq generally included non-perishable foods, games, cards, books, magazines, newspapers, CDs, computer games and DVDs. Chase also mentioned that the Sisseton support group sent its soldiers spaghetti noodles and sauce in a package for the troops to enjoy.

However, the 740th was close to a base with unusually good access to American products where soldiers could obtain many of the items. Some soldiers started asking the group to send toys, pencils and tablets that they could give to the Iraqi children they meet on the roads. In response, the support group started sending items that could be given to the local children, Chase said.

Another item of special request was power tools. The soldiers used the tools to build themselves shelves for their belongings.

According to Chase, support groups don’t receive any money for the packages, mailings, and other costs, so the group organizes fundraisers.

“You’ve probably seen one of our projects while driving around town. We sold the yellow ribbon magnets on cars,” Chase said.

When the 740th came home, the extra money was used to buy presents. Other groups have used the leftover funds to buy t-shirts for the company or throw reunion parties.

After the homecoming of the 740th, the support group has started meeting three times a year. They have plans for several reunions: an upcoming Christmas party and a Freedom Salute in the spring.

While the support group for the 740th has stopped meeting regularly, the 153rd support group is still in full swing.

The support group for the 153rd Engineering Battalion of Madison meets twice a month, once in Brookings and once in Madison. The members sometimes meet for coffee or at a park.

“It’s kind of hard finding things to send him, because it has to be able to survive a trip at least three weeks long in desert heat,” said April Laabs, whose brother Ben is serving with the 153rd. “That pretty much narrows down the food I can send him to Eazy Mac, Pasta Anytime, and Ramen Noodles.”

Laabs also said that her family sends pictures, snacks, small games, and his favorite – DVDs, CDs and games for his computer.

While Chase knew from experience what items would survive the trip, Laabs had to learn from trial and error.

“Once I sent Ben some homemade banana bread without really thinking about how long it would take to get there. I guess it was really moldy and gross by the time it got to him,” Laabs said.

Laabs said that her other failed attempts included oatmeal cream pies and mini powdered donuts; they were melted on arrival.