July Fourth Guide: The Homefront

By Beacon Staff

BIGFORK – Kim Jones can tell you exactly what time it is in Kalsu, Iraq. It’s easy, she says. Subtract three hours from whatever time it is here in Montana, then flip it from a.m. to p.m. or vice versa. So on a recent day around noon, she knew it was 9 p.m. in Kalsu, and that one hour later, her son, Todd, would begin his 12-hour overnight shift as a soldier in the 4th Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division.

Todd, 23, is a member of the brigade’s “Headquarters Headquarters Company,” or HHC, where he operates computer systems that manage the base’s security in Kalsu, 45 minutes southwest of Baghdad.

At all hours of the day, a part of Jones is focused on Kalsu and Todd. She is, after all, his mother. But since the HHC deployed in October, she is also the troop mother for the other 224 members of the company. And over the eight months since arriving in Iraq, the soldiers in the HHC have learned that a mother’s love is, in Jones’s case, virtually boundless.

In November, Jones began assembling care packages to send the company, and her work has since evolved into a large-scale program she has dubbed, “Adopt-a-Soldier,” where different local families correspond with, and send their own care packages to individual HHC members. Jones estimates she has roughly three-quarters of soldiers in the HHC adopted, through a network of families.

“All these things that we take for granted, it’s their link to home,” Jones says. “It grounds them.”

For all the soldiers in the company, adopted or not, Jones has organized several large-scale projects to send over everything from cookies and magazines, to her most recent mailing, neck coolers. The idea behind the neck coolers – stitched collars filled with crystals that retain cold moisture when dipped in water – was to send the troops something that might make the staggering heat of Iraq’s summer more bearable.

With the help of volunteers and a discount on fabric from Glacier Quilts, Jones sewed 377 neck coolers, boxed them up and shipped them out to arrive in Kalsu by mid-June. The coolers had to be a beige color that didn’t conflict with the troops’ desert camouflage, unlike the wildly colored pillowcases she and a group of volunteers stitched a few months earlier for the HHC, which had everything from floral prints to hunting and fishing themes.

“The whole idea behind it was, every night when they go to bed they see that pillowcase and know we are thinking about them,” Jones says. “Everything they get from home is like a hug.”

On a smaller scale, Jones has set up the “Adopt-a-Box” program for families who may not be able to commit to adopting a soldier but will pay the $8.95 in postage for a care package. Donna Chase began a massive magazine drive, with donation boxes at several Kalispell locations to provide the soldiers with reading material.

But the donations don’t go solely to the troops. Before Christmas, Jones forwarded a chaplain’s request for soccer balls for Iraqi children to her e-mail network of families. Paula Bruno, also of Bigfork, forwarded that request to her sister, an employee at Nike Corp. By the end of that week, 200 brand new Nike soccer balls, with air pumps, were on their way to Iraq. Jones also collects Beanie Babies and Matchbox cars to send to soldiers who carry the small toys in their pockets to give to Iraqi children while out on patrols.

On Jones’s coffee table rests a heavy photo album filled with pictures of the HHC soldiers sitting at their desks or outside in combat detail with the desert behind them. Through months of e-mail correspondence, Jones has grown to feel she knows these soldiers. She knows whose children are being looked after by grandparents while the soldier is overseas. She knows who is busy and who is in danger. While the HHC has not suffered any casualties, the brigade has.

“I only get to know when a soldier has died, but we’re not told when soldiers are injured,” Jones says. “When we don’t hear about a soldier, you wonder.”

But she also feels that not enough news about the good work and positive gains made by American forces is reported back home. And while she is worried for her son, she is also amazed by the maturity that military life has instilled in him.

“I totally am torn; war is ugly and no one wants to be there,” she says. “I don’t want my son over there; I want him home, but he said to me, ‘Mom, I made a commitment.’”

“Woah,” she remembers thinking, “this is a man.”

The HHC troops begin coming home in October. With Todd committed for another two years, chances are good he will see a second tour in Iraq in 2010. He may have the option of going to flight school and could decide on a career in the Army. But for now, Jones is looking only as far as the end of the year, and seeing her son return home. Between now and then, she dedicates herself to assembling care packages, corresponding and doing anything else she can think of to let the soldiers in the HHC know that many families in the Flathead are thinking about them.

“I think God puts something in every person’s heart and that’s what happened with the soldiers,” Jones said. “I have learned that one person can do a whole lot.”

To help out, Jones can be contacted via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 406-837-1088.