Many U.S. troops are stationed in Baghdad with only one way to hear the voice of loved ones — through the telephone.
Across thousands of miles, soldiers’ voices travel to the United States, where phone calls home are greeted with a warm hello from a wife, a mother, a brother or a child.
Murrayville resident Anne Braselton has been working for a civilian contractor alongside U.S. troops in Baghdad since 2004, and knows the value of that call home.
"Telephone calls home are probably the most important thing. Sometimes they are more important than personal items," Braselton said. "If (soldiers) had limited money, they would probably buy the calling card first.
"And you see a lot of these young kids walking around here with all their gear in 120 degrees, and you’re thinking, you know, they should be home trying to get a date on a Saturday night, but instead, they’re over here defending us. And that phone call would mean so much ... especially when you’ve got soldiers that have young families. To be able to hear a little child say ‘hi dad’ or ‘hi mom,’ that means a lot."
Anne Braselton and her husband, Glenn Braselton, a Gainesville native, live at the Victory Base Complex in Baghdad. They work for Kellogg, Brown and Root, a civilian services company that maintains housing and dining facilities for the U.S. military.
The Braseltons have maintained U.S. military facilities in Kuwait and Baghdad for the past four years, and spent enough time interacting with soldiers in that time to understand the need for prepaid calling cards at military camps in Baghdad.
Since the couple began writing letters to friends in Gainesville asking people back home to send calling cards to soldiers in Baghdad, Anne Braselton said she has received more than 2,000 100-minute calling cards.
She asked friends and family to involve businesses and civic groups in the effort to raise funds to purchase calling cards.
She said retired Gainesville High School principal Curtis Segars was instrumental in gaining the support of Gainesville and Hall County schools.
Segars initiated the calling card fundraiser in schools by allowing students to come up with their own fundraising ideas, Anne Braselton said. One school allowed students to wear hats on a specified day, which is typically prohibited, if students donated $1 to the calling card fund. Local schools have donated hundreds of cards to soldiers in Baghdad.
Other Hall County groups contributed to the calling card drive, including the Hall County Korean Veterans, individuals from Milton Martin Toyota on Browns Bridge Road and the Hopewell United Methodist Church United Methodist Women’s group.
Jessie Braselton, Anne Braselton’s mother-in-law and United Methodist Women’s group member, said the 15-member group has had U.S. soldiers on their prayer list since the war began. They began raising funds for calling cards once they heard about Anne Braselton’s idea.
"I just know if I were away from home, I sure would want to call home," Jessie Braselton said. "I feel it’s a good thing to put our money towards."
The 100-minute calling cards cost roughly a few dollars each, and are the best cards to send to soldiers, Anne Braselton said, because commanders can dole them out to soldiers fairly when all cards are of the same value.
"The response I always get when I give them to the commanders and the sergeants is always very positive," Anne Braselton said. "Last time when I walked through the door with 400 of them, they couldn’t believe it. They were just amazed that we were able to get this many calling cards together to give out to the troops."
Anne and Glenn Braselton have spent several month-long stints in Baghdad since July 2004, and often return to Murrayville for holidays. Anne Braselton said she and Glenn both work 12-hour days, seven days a week, for KBR. She added that although she’s been in Baghdad for much of the war, she is unable to leave the Victory Base Complex, and cannot discern how daily life has changed in Iraq since the war’s beginning.
But Anne Braselton did say she misses Georgia as well as the ability to walk outdoors without a water bottle nearby to ward off rapid dehydration in the arid Iraqi climate.
"When I first got off the plane, it was 130 degrees, and I thought I was going to die," she said.
Anne Braselton said the food at the "chow hall" is good, and the base complex has fast food restaurants, such as Taco Bell, Subway, Burger King and Popeye’s chicken. She said it’s not American food that she misses so much, it’s the small events.
"I miss not being able to see the mountains and the leaves change color," Anne Braselton said. "And little things, like the Gold Rush in Dahlonega."
Since the Gold Rush and autumn can only be enjoyed in person, the Braseltons said phone calls home are what help them and the soldiers get through the war.
"Calling cards are the easiest thing to give and the best way to say ‘thank you,’ because it’s a little bit of home," Anne Braselton said. "I know it brings a smile to their face. Anything that brings you closer to home is paradise over here."