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Patriotic Article
Noble Efforts

By USAF SSgt. Angelique Smythe

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Caring Airmen, American Citizens Clothe Wounded Warriors
(January 4, 2010)

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Maj. Deborah Lehker and Master Sgt. Scott Wilkes set up a table with donated supplies Dec. 17, 2009, at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. Sergeant Wilkes established a wounded warriors program in which American citizens from 37 different states sent donations to Kandahar Airfield so that servicemembers wounded in combat would have clothing available to wear during transportation. Major Lehker and Sergeant Wilkes are from the 451st Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight.
Maj. Deborah Lehker and Master Sgt. Scott Wilkes set up a table with donated supplies Dec. 17, 2009, at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. Sergeant Wilkes established a wounded warriors program in which American citizens from 37 different states sent donations to Kandahar Airfield so that servicemembers wounded in combat would have clothing available to wear during transportation. Major Lehker and Sergeant Wilkes are from the 451st Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight.
 KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (12/31/2009) -- When the crewmembers of 451st Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight first deployed to Kandahar Airfield in August, they knew they would be transporting many wounded warriors throughout Afghanistan.

What they didn't expect was to be transporting some of those patients in nothing but their underwear. Hospitals here just had no clothing available.

"These guys are giving their lives, their buddies are dying, some of them are giving their limbs in combat, and I think they deserve to be treated much better than being transported in just their underwear," said Master Sgt. Scott Wilkes, a 451st EAEF aeromedical technician.

Sergeant Wilkes knew he had to do something to keep these warriors clothed. So, he initiated a wounded warriors program. One e-mail sent to family and friends back home on the east coast of the U.S. shortly made its way to churches, synagogues, schools, police stations, firehouses, malls and law firms.

Soon, boxes of clothes started pouring in. In less than four months more than 1,000 boxes were delivered, totaling 18,000 pounds of donations. Americans who wanted to do their part in helping to make sure these wounded warriors received the right dignity and were flown with respect offered $74,000 worth of donations.
"I was actually floored by the generosity of people and the power of the internet," Sergeant Wilkes said. "I think we had donations from just about 37 different states and Germany as well."

First, the team made sure there was enough clothing available for the wounded warriors to keep them warm and to restore their pride. But even after keeping Bagram's 455th EAEF, the Craig Joint Theater Hospital and other forward operating bases well stocked with many of these donations, there were still supplies left over.

With the lack of available real estate and not enough storage space to place all of these boxes on Kandahar Airfield, the team decided to supply servicemembers with some of these donations, such as t-shirts, shorts, socks, underwear, soap and shampoo, at the Kandahar morale tent once a week.

"The first time we gave these out, the Army troops would come in and ask how much they were," said Master Sgt. Debra Leddy, a 451st EAEF aeromedical technician. "It's free; it's from someone back home. Then we'd explain this was for our Wounded Warriors program, but, thankfully, we don't have that many wounded so we were able to give these out to them."

Recently, a rocket attack on Kandahar damaged a Bulgarian clinic and the living quarters of Romanian servicemembers. Everything within those buildings were either trashed or lost due to fire and water. This team immediately identified the needs of the servicemembers and provided them with necessary supplies.

"We sent a team there with boxes of new underwear, socks, sweatshirts and toiletries," Sergeant Wilkes said. "Those guys really appreciated that."

Along with clothing, food items were also donated by the American people for the wounded warriors to eat during their flight as it would sometimes take many hours before they'd reach their final destinations at the theater hospital in Bagram or other forward operating bases.

"These Army and Marine guys love their (Meals Ready-to-Eat), but let me tell you, they're just so tired of eating them," Sergeant Wilkes said. "So we've had people send different snacks, such as beef jerky, something small to remind them of home, something other than an MRE."

The caring Airmen of the 451st EAEF not only assisted the wounded warriors they transported through this program, but Afghan children as well. They teamed up with the chaplain's office here to provide school supplies and toys through a program called Toys for Afghan Tots.

"Seeing these children in the hospital, some with missing legs, breaks your heart," Sergeant Wilkes said. "We received small clean toys for them, such as stuffed animals, something to play with until they're sent back home or to orphanages. Some of them weren't physically injured but had other members of their family killed or severely injured."

With winter on the way, the Airmen also decided to start a drive for children's blankets and children's shoes; functional items that could be used. This is one way in which they assisted with winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. They also collected first aid supplies for the Afghan clinic.

Efforts toward the Wounded Warriors program were primarily conducted by seven members of the 451st EAEF, led by Sergeant Wilkes.

"We'd come back, do our crew rest, then start boxing the next day and jump right back into it again," said Sergeant Wilkes.

An assembly line would be created to separate toys, clothes, shoes, blankets and first aid supplies. They would even spend time removing batteries from toys in order to make sure they didn't end up in the wrong hands, such of those of the Taliban or insurgents.

"My team really did a great job," said Sergeant Wilkes. "I'm proud of each one of these guys and gals. They all did it out of the goodness of their hearts."

"This is my tenth deployment and I can go home honestly this deployment and say this is probably the most fulfilling deployment I've ever had in my entire career just because of all the people we've helped out," said Sergeant Wilkes. "I'm a firefighter back home. I don't make a lot of money, but I do it because I love helping people out. It makes you feel good; you feel satisfied."

Article and photo by USAF SSgt. Angelique Smythe
451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Copyright 2009

Reprinted from Air Force News Service

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