They're missing from the table at Thanksgiving. They're missing from the ugly Christmas sweater photo. They're members of U.S. military on deployment.
For some, missing the holidays is troubling and adds to stress levels.
Gordon Kennedy of Butler has two daughters serving in the military, one of whom, Brittni Krill, is deployed.
Kennedy said recently he got together with Krill's family, her husband, John, and her children Juli, 7, and Brantley, 3, to put together a care package for her.
They packed a box with a her stocking, presents and a lot of love.
“Out of all the soldiers I know, she has the best moral support,” Kennedy said. “I'll back her 110 percent.”
Kennedy said he and his father were both veterans, and John Krill is also a Reservist.
He said their family has a lot of military background, and he is happy to support his daughter, having been scorned upon his own return from deployment.
“I went in at the end of Vietnam,” Kennedy said. “We didn't have that type of support.”
So for Kennedy, it is important that he and Brittni's family show their support any way they can, but they've also had some help.
In addition to their own Christmas box, Brittni was sent a box by the Yellow Ribbon Girls of Ellwood City.
Kennedy said receiving care packages really breaks up the monotony of the everyday life of deployed personnel.
“When you get care packages, it's the best thing happening,” he said.
Yellow Ribbon Girls
The Yellow Ribbon Girls is a nonprofit organization run by sisters, Bonnie Phillippi, Patti Phillippi and Vicki Henley.
The sisters started the organization for their brother, retired Lt. Col. John Stich, who was deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in early 2003.
Bonnie Phillippi said their organization has been blessed to have grown into a much bigger operation as of today, and the group is even more focused and busy during the holidays.
“We send extra during the holidays because they need to know they're not forgotten,” Phillippi said.
Phillippi said the troops don't always respond to their gift, but nobody expects them to.
But some do write or message them with thanks and kind words.
A master sergeant named Matthew who is serving in Kuwait said he was grateful to receive the boxes.
“I received two huge boxes of Christmas cheer from you, and I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart,” he wrote. “I am going to hold on to the contents until Christmas Eve and then share it with my unit. I'm gonna put up the decorations as soon as Thanksgiving is over.”
Phillippi said pillow cases are some of the most popular requests, with drink mixes close behind. She said anytime troops get something fresh they enjoy it, and anytime they break their routine is a bonus.
“At least it gives them some sense of variety,” she said.
A soldier by the name of Dave really enjoyed the blue pillow case he received from his care package.
“I am stationed at an undisclosed forward location, so sometimes supplies of this kind are never available, but I went to the chapel tent annex and there it was with a nice blue ribbon tied about it,” he wrote. “I slept so well last night, and the case gave me a sense of home.”
Phillippi said most of the packages also contain snacks and treats, things the troops may not get in their regular trips to the mess hall.
Some like Staff Sgt. Gietzen were just happy to receive a sign from the home they left behind.
“Thank you so much for the stockings and other assorted presents,” Gietzen wrote. “They are awesome and moved some of us to tears — the amount of care and love that went into the packages that we received.”
Phillippi said there are many ways to help the troops, and her organization is always looking for help.
She said people can sign Christmas cards or make a craft. People make all of the pillow cases and stockings that they send over.
“Everyone got a homemade afghan for Christmas because people made them all year long for us,” she said. More information about how to help the Yellow Ribbon Girls can be found at www.yellowribbongirls.com.
OTHER WAYS TO HELP
There are many ways to help active military personnel and veterans all year round.
- Groups like the United Service Organization, website www.uso.org, and Support Our Troops, website www.supportourtroops.org, have multiple programs for sending gifts and packages to troops and their families throughout the year. Both organizations also accept monetary donations.
The Yellow Ribbon Girls of Ellwood City make mailing lists of soldiers in need of cards, letters and packages. The group sends packages overseas for orphanages and schools. The items they require the most are batteries, beef jerky, toilet paper, protein bars and powder drink mix. Visit www.yellowribbongirls.com or its Facebook page.
- The Boucek's Battalion organization sends chocolate chip, oatmeal, peanut butter and snickerdoodle cookies to the troops. Directions for packaging cookies and collection dates and places are available on its website, www.bouceksbattalion.org/donations. Monetary donations also are accepted.
- A nonprofit organization called the Veterans in Need Fund provides veterans with emergency financial assistance. To make donations to the fund, contact the group's chairman, John Cyprian, who is also the director of county Veterans Services, at 724-284-5352.
- The VA Butler Healthcare has the Adopt-a-Veteran program. Those interested should contact Chris Tomayko, a VA employee, at 724-477-5018, or Paula McCarl at 878-271-6492.
Voluntary Services also needs donations of body wash, laundry detergent, shampoo and conditioner; nonperishable food items; and toilet paper and gift cards, both for the Homeless Veterans Program.
Volunteers, especially drivers, are needed to support various functions for the served counties, including Butler, Armstrong, Mercer, Lawrence and Clarion. Individuals should contact Andy Pepe, voluntary services coordinator, at 878-271-6960 to discuss donation needs and volunteer support.
Giving blood helps veterans as well as military personnel and their families. “When you donate blood, you give the gift they don't return,” said Kristine Lane, Vitalant spokeswoman. Vitalant has an office at 127 Oneida Valley Road and can be reached at 877-258-4826. Donors can also find a blood drive or donation center by contacting the American Red Cross, visit www.redcrossblood.org.
SUPPORT TROOPS' FAMILIES
Deployed troops miss the holidays. The families of active service members feel this too. Ways to show support to these families include handwritten cards, holiday gifts, cookies and community events. Find out more through organizations like Military One Source or the American Red Cross, Butler County Chapter, 724-283-2810.
While active troops need support, veterans also need of support. Show your appreciation for those who have served by volunteering at the VA Butler Healthcare or a nursing home.