Illinois National Guard 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry Regiment’s Bravo Company is far away in Afghanistan for the holidays, but its members are getting a special delivery to remind them of home.
Elgin police and firefighters are helping collect items to create care packages for Bravo Company, which is based out of the National Guard Armory on Raymond Street in Elgin. Four hundred members of the 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry Regiment were deployed to Afghanistan in July for a one-year tour. The regiment covers Chicago and the suburbs including Elgin, Joliet, and Woodstock.
Stephanie Severson heads the National Guard’s Family Readiness Group creating the care packages. Her husband, Marc, is a commander based out of the Raymond Street armory. The group is made up of volunteers whose relatives are among the 64 soldiers, part of Bravo Company, deployed to Afghanistan from the Elgin Armory. Bravo Company trained in Texas for about a month and were able to come home for a three-day weekend before heading to Afghanistan in September, Severson said.
The Seversons, of Rockford, have children ages 6, 4, and nine-months-old. It’s Marc Severson’s first deployment and first Christmas away from his family.
“It’s just tough. We’ve already missed a few birthdays we’ve come to terms with it,” said Stephanie Severson. “We do a lot of Facetiming. That’s how we plan to get through the holidays. At this point, it is just what it is. We’re not happy about it, but we accept the fact our spouses are over there, and they are doing what they were trained to do. We have to support them.”
Elgin police got involved when veteran Robert Getz contacted the department requesting help collecting donations. The police department felt it was a nice opportunity to show support to the men and women from the community serving this country, especially during the holiday season, officials said.
Getz is part of the Elgin Veterans Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 1307, which organizes a Help a Vet project. Gathering donations for care packages fits into that mission, he said. The reason he wants to help is very personal.
“I’m an old Vietnam vet. We were treated so horribly when we went overseas, then came home,” said Getz, who served in the U.S. Army for 24 years. “I didn’t want them to be treated the same way.” When he was in the war, his unit received a single care package. It was from a Boy Scout Troop in Washington, he said. It took decades for his service to be recognized. He remembers the moment. A young man “shook my hand and said, ‘thank you for your service.’ It felt great that someone cared,” he said.
He wants Bravo Company to have that feeling, and he’s finding a lot of support in Elgin. Elgin Police Department veterans, Elgin firefighters, Elgin Community College veterans, the American Legion, the VFW, and businesses have all pitched in, he said.
“We’re getting carloads of things that we’re taking to the Armory. Everybody has been super nice and willing to make a donation,” he said. “It’s been very nice,” Getz said. “I’m sure they’re going to really appreciate it.”
The Family Readiness Group started gathering donations at the end of October, Severson said. The word is still getting out about their efforts to create care packages, but there’s growing community support for the project, she said. Elgin police released a list of items Bravo Company requested including beef jerky, body wipes, candy and nuts, canned soup, Monster energy drinks, protein bars, razors, snack mixes, travel-sized toiletries like shampoo, soap, and shaving cream.
Other Family Readiness Groups affiliated with the Battalion are also sending care packages but are asking for different things like Amazon gift cards and PlayStation games. Bravo Company members requested junk food, toiletries, and other items, Severson said. Military personnel actually have the essentials they need, it’s the little things from home, like junk food, that helps them cope with being homesick, she said.
Even a note of thanks goes a long way, she said. The group hopes to have a note for every soldier, she said. “It’s a good reminder for them. It keeps them going, and it’s something to make them smile. It can be rough over there, (sometimes) they need to smile,” Severson said.
The care packages serve another mission, to bring Family Readiness Groups together, Severson said. Families of National Guard members face a different experience than families with relatives enlisted in the military, Severson said. “We don’t live in a military base, so we don’t always have the full support of other families or connections,” she said, adding sometimes National Guardsmen’s families don’t know how or where to ask for help. “The Family Readiness group brings families together, so everyone can feel less alone,” she said.
The Elgin Armory’s Family Readiness Group is sending 64 care packages to Afghanistan late next week. Shipping is expensive, she said. Any monetary donations toward those costs are also appreciated, Severson said.
Donations can be dropped off through Dec. 5 at the police department, 151 Douglas Ave. Other collection sites are the Elgin Fire Department Station 7, 3270 Longcommon Parkway, American Legion Elgin Post 57, 820 N. Liberty, Elgin VFW Post 6115, 1601 Weld Road, Paul’s Family Restaurant, 1300 Lawrence Ave., and Elgin State Bank, 1001 S. Randall Road.
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