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Guarding and giving from the homefront

Sgt. 1st Class Tracy Payne, left, and Staff Sgt. James Morris, right, hand boxes up to Sgt. Wayland Massengill as they load a truck Wednesday at the National Guard armory in Rock Hill.
Sgt. 1st Class Tracy Payne, left, and Staff Sgt. James Morris, right, hand boxes up to Sgt. Wayland Massengill as they load a truck Wednesday at the National Guard armory in Rock Hill.

From area churches and school kids and yard sales, where people decided to give away the loot rather than raise a few bucks, came so much stuff.

For three months, donations showed up at the Rock Hill National Guard armory. The goods were donated because among the many calls from Afghanistan to wives and mothers since area National Guard soldiers deployed overseas a few months ago, one call came to a wife named Barbara Rouse. The husband calling was Billy Rouse of Chester, a command sergeant major who's a leader of hundreds of men and a tough son of a gun.

Billy Rouse also is a father and grandfather with a tender heart. More than four years ago, I watched him send dozens of his men from Fort Mill's armory to Iraq. He vowed to those men he would look after their families while they were gone. I watched him hug their children and wipe away their tears after the bus pulled off.

A few months ago, Rouse told his wife, "Barbara, everybody at home has to understand, some of these kids over here don't have any shoes, and winter is coming," Barbara Rouse said.

So, Barbara Rouse and other members of the Family Readiness Group for the 178th Combat Engineers from Fort Mill and Rock Hill armories, and other places around the state in the 218th brigade, started collecting. Much of what was collected -- 300-plus boxes of stuff, and even the boxes were donated -- came from locals.

Shoes and clothes and blankets, pots and pans and home-made dolls. Home-made dresses for those dolls. For Afghan people, shoeless kids and mothers without husbands and fathers killed in wars, and farmers who still work plows by hand.

There were coats and school supplies. There were old Army uniforms for Afghan military trainees, because one of the missions of area soldiers is to train Afghans to take over their own security. The wives back home stripped off the name tags from our boys' old uniforms that aren't military issue anymore and offered up the pants and shirts. There was even an artificial Christmas tree.

"No stand, but our guys are engineers, they can build anything," Barbara Rouse said.

Volunteers sorted it all and boxed it for shipping. Soldiers from the unit who remain here loaded the truck Wednesday. The trucking and shipping costs were covered by a businessman from California who grew up with one of the soldiers serving with 178th soldiers in Afghanistan. Two guys from a trucking company, Panther Expedited Services, showed up Wednesday to pick it all up. They were so moved that they donated the mileage from part of the trip, money they would normally make.

The stuff should arrive in a couple of weeks.

One soldier who was home on leave recently was so struck by the kids in Afghanistan who wanted just one pen or pencil that he and his wife, at their own expense, bought boxloads of pencils and pens and notebooks.

A sergeant named Wayland Massengill helped load that truck Wednesday and he did not complain about it. He already served a tour in Afghanistan. He saw the kids.

"I know what the people have over there, and what they don't have," he said. "I know this matters."

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