In rural Afghanistan, as Army wife Leanne Pressley puts it, “You can’t just run out to Walmart when you run out of body wash.”
So when Pressley heard from her husband, Chief Warrant Officer Colin Pressley, that he and other members of the Rock Hill-based Army National Guard 178th Combat Engineers – now in isolated eastern Afghanistan – at times could not get enough soap, toothpaste, snacks or toothbrushes, Pressley decided to act.
On Saturday, the families of the unit’s 160-plus soldiers are collecting supplies from chips to razors, with the goal of sending each soldier a package of supplies to get through the holidays.
The soldiers – including 14 women in the unit who need feminine products – are based at Forward Operating Base Sharana, near the border with Pakistan.
The 178th has been in Afghanistan since mid-August and will be deployed for nine months on a construction and bomb-clearance mission that is both dangerous and dirty.
Dust and dirt, rocks and rubble, not to mention bombs, are pretty much everywhere these soldiers live.
It is a place that does have a Post Exchange where soldiers can get personal care items, but the PX sometimes doesn’t have everything a soldier might want or need, according to family members and unit leaders.
“These soldiers are living in 8-foot-by-8-foot plywood rooms, and they have to walk to the bathhouse where the showers and restrooms are,” Pressley said. “There are rocks. And boulders. It is nobody’s fault, but it is just where they are – the middle of nowhere. They are in a war.
“They have so many personal needs that we can help them with.”
Sgt. Major Joe Medlin, the unit’s top enlisted man, sent an e-mail from Afghanistan saying how much the soldiers appreciate anything that is sent. Winter military operations in the mountains of Afghanistan is no picnic at Cherry Park.
There are no parks in eastern Afghanistan. Outside a base, on a mission, there is nothing.
“With colder weather coming soon and at an elevation of 8,000 feet above sea level, hand warmers would be ideal,” Medlin wrote of the need for those little warmers so commonly used by sports fans at cold games.
The motto of the 178th is “First in, Last out.”
These soldiers are now doing field missions in a place that has few paved roads, but plenty of mountains, plateaus and desert for hundreds of square miles. It is not like Rock Hill, where you can go to the next store if all the bread is gone.
There is no next store in Afghanistan.
Some areas where soldiers go on missions have no PX, Maj. Corol Dobson told families in a recent newsletter. Supplies not only help the soldier, they lift morale in a far-off country at war, the battalion commander wrote.
Pressley and others have put out several donation boxes at area businesses.
On Saturday at Fat Fingers Bar & Grill on South Anderson Road in Rock Hill, the families will collect supplies as part of a barbecue chicken, auction and live music fundraiser. The event starts at 1 p.m.
Donations will be accepted through the end of October, with the plan to get each soldier a box by Thanksgiving.
Many area businesses and individuals have already donated to the troops. Carolina Fresh Farms supply house on S.C. 161 donated more than 60 pairs of Crocs shoes for shower and recreational use, and more than 50 pairs of tennis shoes.
“When these guys left, it hit me close to home because my business is right down the street from the armory, and I would see the soldiers all the time,” said David Rector, owner of Carolina Fresh Farms. “Then all of a sudden, all these people I would see getting breakfast at the convenience store are gone.
“They need things that the rest of us take for granted, that we can get any time, any day. They need all of us to help them.”
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