Sep 17, 2007

Michigan-based non-profit provides comfort to wounded troops

The thousands of soldiers, sailors, airman and Marines wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan are receiving some much needed creature comforts with care packages from southeast Michigan.

Operation Quiet Comfort (OQC) is a Michigan-based group with members from all over the country that provides care packages to wounded soldiers brought into Combat Support Hospital (CSH) that include such essential things as pajamas and underwear to razors and portable CD players with three music CDs. With the quick extraction from the battlefield and improved medial treatment that is saving the lives of hundreds of wounded soldiers that would have died from their wounds in past wars, the wounded arrive at the CSH with just what they had on them on the battlefield with all personal items left behind.

“There are some basic needs that need to be met when the men and woman come into the hospitals,” said Amber Sherman, a Volunteer Project Coordinator for Public Relations for the Midwest who lives in Roseville. “When the soldier comes in they literally have just their BDUs and boots on, and they are usually cut away.”

In addition to the basic clothing OQC provides, they also provide what are known as “Go Bags.” The basic black backpacks include such essential toiletry and comfort items as the CD players, stationary and personal items. They also receive what are known as the Four Freedom Gratitude Quilts. These are made of denim squares cut from jeans, and the squares are signed by groups and individuals that include messages of support. The quilts were inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's address to Congress in 1941 that includes the four basic freedoms the military is protecting: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

“There are not many groups out there that do what we do,” Sherman said. “It’s really important the troops know we support and care for them here at home.”

Quiet Comfort was formed in 2004 by Lori Pate in her home in LaSalle Township, a rural community in southern Monroe County. The concept quickly took off, and Pate is the president of a board of directors for the tax-exempt nonprofit charitable organization that boasts directors from places like Mansfield, MO.; Shawnee, Kan.; and Middleport, N.Y.

“She simply saw and need and a void and filled it,” Sherman said. “It has just grown and grown and grown.”

Despite the divisive politics over the invasion and fighting in Iraq, Sherman said that is something that the group does not even cares about or concerns itself with. Volunteers include both opponents of the continued fighting in Iraq and those that support it.

“Our mission is to support our injured troops, only,” she said. “We are not here to support the war or not to support the war; our focus is the troops.”

Although there are members from all over the country, the boxes to ship the go bags and clothing to the 38 overseas hospitals the group supports is done here in Michigan. It was originally done in Pate’s home, but it has grown so large that it has moved into donated warehouse space. The packing days occur about six times a year, but that can change depending on need. For example, the recent troop surge in Iraq increased the packing days.

Sherman said there are numerous volunteer opportunities available, and you do not have to be a member to help. Many groups and individual donate money and items to go in the bags, and they also gather to write the notes of support. Many groups also hold fundraisers to help buy the items and pay for shipping. The fundraisers are very unique, and they resemble some of the fundraisers held for Jerry Lewis’s Labor Day telethon. For example, Sherman just held a yard sale where she raised $600 for the cause, and a farmer in Dundee who operates a corn maze is donating half of the ticket sales to the group.

“We get a lot of Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops to help because our projects are easy to do,” Sherman said. “But there is nothing typical about our fundraising, and if a member has an idea that works we say go for it.”

The only real shortfall has been finding enough quilters to get each wounded service member a quilt.

“We are always looking for quilters,” Sherman said. “We need anyone who can sew a straight line.”

Anyone can join, and there is no membership fee. You can join by simply becoming a member of their yahoo group, and the only requirement is to be able to raise a $1 a month for postage.

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