Andrew Dys

Families pack Valentine’s Day boxes for National Guard soldiers in Afghanistan

Her name is Becca Watkins and she is 5 years old. She had red construction paper, and a crayon, and she made her father a valentine. It had a heart on it, and a soldier.

“My dad is the soldier,” the tiny girl said.

No card was ever prettier.

The dad is Sgt. David Watkins, one of 161 dads, or fathers, or sons, or even moms, in the Army National Guard 178th Combat Engineer Battalion currently in Afghanistan. Every one of those soldiers left somebody at home, or a group of somebodies, who cannot hug the soldier next month on Valentine’s Day.

So the families got together and decided to send boxes of valentines to the soldiers.

Kimberly Watkins, the mom, put kisses on the card.

“Me, too,” said Becca, 5 years old, whose father is away fighting a war.

Saturday at the Rock Hill armory, the home base for the unit, dozens of people packed goodie boxes, with at least one valentine card in each. There were volunteers from the Fort Mill American Legion Ladies Auxiliary, and the Rock Hill Shag Club, putting in the donations from the community, and Home Depot, and the cards and more from students from Rawlinson Road Middle and Sullivan Middle schools.

There are 161 soldiers. So there were 161 boxes.

Some were boxes were designated for females – the unit has more than a dozen women in it.

“We send to every soldier,” said Anne Cash, the Family Readiness Group coordinator who organized Saturday’s event. “All of them.”

There were no politicians there Saturday, nobody who sends soldiers to war and leaves families behind. No politician had to tell Becca that Saturday was National Service Day across America. Nobody needed to tell the dozens of family members, and volunteers, about service.

The lives of these people is service. Service is not once a year. It is every day the soldier is gone and the three kids and wife of Sgt. First Class Mike Thompson have to stay home and make valentine’s cards and hope and pray that the dad, who is serving his community and country with the National Guard, comes home safe.

Julieana Thompson, 4 years old, said, “I made a big heart for my dad.”

Even boys made Valentine’s Day cards. Dennis Geronimo, 6, made a great valentine for his father, Spc. Brandon Dover.

“I put a heart on top,” Dennis said.

The Colman family from Chester came to the armory to help. Their soldier is Master Sgt. Christopher Coleman, who is a father, husband, and grandfather. Christopher Coleman, 40 years in the military, 58 years old, is in Afghanistan making sure somebody else’s loved one comes home safe.

That’s why his wife, Edith, and daughter, Kimberly, and granddaughters, Kaniayah and Kennedy, were there making those cards for Valentine’s Day. It was beautiful, and heartbreaking, to see that family make the cards about the day of love for a man so loved who is so far away in a war.

“I Love U,” said those cards.

Packing like a champ was a mom, Kathy Utter, whose son Sgt. David Andrews is deployed. Andrews is a policeman in York when he is not fighting in war.

His mother is his valentine.

Laura Mayle was there, a fourth grade teacher whose boyfriend is Sgt. Jerry Martin. The students in her class see the picture of Martin every day, and ask her every day how he is. Saturday, Mayle made a card, just like the kids made cards. It spoke of her love, and her wish for him to come home. It had hearts, and three “X” and three “O” marks, for hugs and kisses.

The two became a couple at Valentine’s Day last year.

“I miss him,” said Mayle, whose tears then spoke more than any words.

Saturday’s event was not planned as part of National Service Day. But the families of these Rock Hill soldiers, and the volunteers, and those men and women in Afghanistan since August with at least four months to go, they showed again what service is all about.

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