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Operation Patriot's Call keeps eye on military families

From baby-sitting to fixing cars, the call is out to community to help chip in

POSTED: November 30, 2008 5:00 a.m.

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On March 25, 2005, Sgt. Gordon Smith held the hand of his wife, Amy, as she gave birth to their third child, Damien Joshua Smith.

Three days later, Smith was on a plane bound for Iraq with the other Army National Guard troops of the Gainesville-based Charlie Company.

The Franklin County resident dodged enemy fire and was unharmed during his stint in Iraq. But during the lulls of peace in the desert, his thoughts turned to his family.

He hoped his wife was faring well in her first year home schooling their 5-year-old son, Jonathon, while also caring for their 3-year-old daughter, Katey, and baby Damien. He was glad he bought a new cooking range for the kitchen before he left. The old one was prone to catching fire.

"You’re always worried about your family," 34-year-old Smith said.

That’s why a group of local Vietnam veterans and community members have banded together to form Operation Patriot’s Call, a grassroots network dedicated to assisting families of soldiers before, during and after their overseas deployments.

Operation Patriot’s Call aims to set up a network for the families of the 130 troops in Gainesville’s National Guard unit Charlie Company who are scheduled to be deployed to Afghanistan this spring.

Staff Sgt. Casey Taylor will stay behind with troops’ families in Gainesville to be the liaison between the families and the community for Operation Patriot’s Call.

Taylor said most of the troops in Charlie Company are young guys who are unmarried. But about one-third of the all-male company is married with children. He said anyone in the community can donate funds to Patriot’s Call. Individuals also can donate their services, ranging from electrical, legal and financial to medical, in an effort to help families get through the yearlong deployment.

The group’s goal is to have a list of businesses or professionals Taylor can call on at discounted rates to help the wives and children of deployed Army men in lieu of having the real thing — dad.

"You’re taking a wage earner out of the house and you’re still getting a paycheck, but you don’t have the daddy around to do the daddy type of things," Taylor said.

Ron Kellner, a Vietnam veteran who helped initiate Operation Patriot’s Call in Gainesville, said four other companies of the 48th Infantry Brigade 1st Battalion of the 121st Infantry Regiment are in operation in Lawrenceville, Covington, Milledgeville and Winder.

"Those of us that have served know how the families suffer," Kellner said. "They still have kids, they still get sick and they still have to work and make house payments."

When about half of the current members of Charlie Company were deployed to Iraq in 2005, Taylor said he heard the troops voice real concerns about their families living back home in Hall, Banks, Dawson, Lumpkin and White counties.

"The main thing we found during the last deployment is that nobody really knew there were so many soldiers in the community until they came back," he said. "The key things is it wasn’t money, it wasn’t services, it was peace of mind they wanted. They wanted to know if a tornado came through or if their roof caved in, their family wasn’t going to be forgotten or taken advantage of by some mechanic or unscrupulous businessman."

Charlie Company’s commander, Capt. Jeffrey Moran of Cumming, will be deployed to Afghanistan this spring along with his troops. He said it was the battalion’s former commander, Lt. Col. Andy Hall, who planted the seed for Operation Patriot’s Call.

"His vision was to mobilize the community along with the unit," Moran said.

"There’s people who want to help everywhere. They want to help, but they just don’t know how to help. That’s why the Patriot’s Call was organized, to let folks (in the community) know when (troops) are being deployed and how they can help," he said. "When they’re overseas, they won’t have the distraction of ‘Is my family OK?’ They can focus on the mission, and that plays into the bigger picture here."

Moran said Operation Patriot’s Call is looking for anyone in the community who wants to help. Businesses and individuals can register online at patriots
call.com, where they can list the ways in which they can help, including baby-sitting, carpooling and fixing cars or basic household appliances, such as lawn mowers and vacuum cleaners.

"Anything that you could think of as a household need that you would need yourself, they’re going to need," Kellner said of troops’ families.

Dave Dellinger, a Vietnam veteran and co-founder of the Northeast Georgia Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America, said he’s eager to energize the community to contribute to Operation Patriot’s Call. He said he feels he owes the soldiers of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars because it’s they who have helped bring honor to Vietnam veterans like himself.

Dellinger said he remembers his commanders telling him to change out of his uniform on his flight back to the U.S. from the Philippines.

"We never got a parade. We never got a welcome home," he said of Vietnam veterans. "We’re getting recognition now because of these guys. ... We owe these guys more than we can pay."

Dellinger said the Vietnam Veterans of America has a slogan: "Never again will one generation forget another generation."

"We feel an obligation to uphold that," he said.

Moran said when Charlie Company returned to Gainesville in May 2006, the community gave the troops "the best welcome back in the state."

He said the community members involved with Operation Patriot’s Call are taking their appreciation a step further. They’re hosting a 250-person Christmas party and feast for the troops and family members of Charlie Company on Dec. 7 at Riverside Military Academy. Operation Patriot’s Call still is in need of funds to purchase food and Christmas presents for troops’ children.

"It’s a very significant Christmas party ... because it’s the last one before we mobilize," Moran said. "The next Christmas, obviously, will be overseas."

Smith said as a squad leader, he’s a planner and often thinks of what his troops will need for the next mission.

He said it eases his mind to know the entire community is gathering resources now to help care for his wife and children while he’s in Afghanistan.

"These are the people of this community that we’re fighting for. These are our homes. These are our communities. These are our families. And for them to come around in appreciation like that, it makes a lot of the sacrifice that you have to make to leave your family and go and defend these people’s freedom. It makes it worth it," Smith said.

"You turn around and look at these people when you come home and they say, ‘welcome back,’ and they’ve stood behind your family the whole time you were over there. It really makes a lot of the sacrifice that’s called for from a soldier worth it."



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