Caring Airmen, American Citizens Clothe Wounded Warriors
(January 4, 2010)
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
What they didn't expect was to be transporting
some of those patients in nothing but their
underwear. Hospitals here just had no clothing
"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
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
"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
"We'd come back, do our crew rest, then start boxing the
next day and jump right back into it again," said Sergeant
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
Air Force News Service
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