By RAELYNN RICARTE
News staff writer
October 11, 2006
Terri Hansen of Hood River once cried at the thought that soldiers serving their country often had no encouragement from home — then she dried her eyes and got to work.
“Some of these men and women have been in combat for months and never received a card or letter telling them that they are appreciated,” said Hansen. “I think, whether people support the war or not, we all need to support our heroes.”
She has personally adopted eight members of the military through Soldiers’ Angels. Hansen has agreed to the nonprofit group’s terms of sending a package once or twice each month and a letter every week to the men and women under her watch.
“I don’t always get a ‘thank you’ or an acknowledgement but I keep sending them until one comes back and then I know he/she is home and safe,” said Hansen.
She has also taken on duties with Soldiers’ Angels as the Oregon Special Projects Coordinator. And in that role, Hansen has launched a local drive to help collect 40,000 Christmas/holiday cards that will be sent out to deployed troops from the region in mid-November.
“We need to let them know that America has not forgotten them and that we care,” she said.
Already, Hood River’s Delta Kappa Sorority and American Legion Post 22 have stepped forward to help. And the Hood River County Chamber of Commerce has granted Hansen space to set up a display at the waterfront Visitor’s Center until mid-November. Interested community members can either pick up a card from that location to fill out later and return, or just put pen to paper on the spot.
The Fruit Company is providing a gift basket to the Soldiers’ Angel in either Oregon or Washington that collects the most cards — exempting Hansen.
“There is so much patriotism out there and I think people are just looking for opportunities like this to express it,” she said.
As a selling point for the program, Hansen shows a photo of a soldier on the battlefield holding an envelope up to his face in a sentimental gesture. She has sent that picture off to area businesses with a request for their participation.
“Our heroes are making sacrifices for us 24 hours a day, seven days a week; the least that we can all do is brighten their lives by giving them a few minutes of our time,” said Hansen.
In fact, she and the children in her day care — who have colored more than 300 pictures for the troops — regularly get return letters. And they receive first-hand accounts about the hardship brought by weather that often tops 120 degrees and hard-hitting hail that forces everyone to run for cover.
“I look forward to your letters because you are the only one who writes to me on a regular basis … You asked in your letter if I needed anything. Not really. Your letters are enough. And oatmeal cookies are my favorite …” writes Specialist Mike Smith from Iraq.
Hansen said her most touching story was the follow-up to a request from a platoon leader who wanted dozens of colorings from the children.
He told her that the bright pictures had been hung on the dark walls of an old and dank prison that his men had secured and were bunking in.
“He said that we gave them hope and determination to get the job done and come home safe,” said Hansen.
Soldier’s Angels was started two years ago by “ordinary mother” Patti Patton-Bader. Her son, Army Sgt. Brandon Varn, who was stationed in Iraq, had written home expressing concern that many of his teammates were not receiving mail or support from anyone back in the states.
Patton-Bader decided to act and, by the next year, had enlisted the help of thousands of civilians worldwide. In August alone, Hansen was one of 906 individuals on letter-writing teams that sent out 11,284 pieces of correspondence. And that volume of mail did not include the well-wishes that were sent to the wounded armed forces personnel in military hospitals.
In addition, some members of Soldiers’ Angels craft Blankets of Hope for the injured. Also in popular demand are the hand and foot coverings that are used to warm the extremities of the wounded during the long and cold flight back to the U.S. Included on the handicraft list are both cooling and sand scarves.
Hansen has literally stocked a shed full of donated yarn for these projects and is always seeking to enlist any help that she can get — even supplying the patterns.
“It’s just endless. There is something that everyone can do to help out,” she said.
Hansen said Soldiers’ Angels also provides an avenue on its Web site, www.soldiersangels.com, for people to contribute backpacks full of emergency supplies or pre-paid international phone cards.
“We are all dedicated to ensuring that our military know they are loved and supported during their deployment into harm’s way,” Hansen said.
When not at work on a Soldiers’ Angels project, Hansen is serving as the Hood River and Wasco counties veteran’s liaison for the Patriot Guard Riders, a national organization that attends military burial and memorial services to pay respects.
She can be reached for more information on either group at 386-1815 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.