A Soldotna soldier stationed in Germany may not know it yet, but he is the winner of a brand new leather NASCAR racing jacket, a prize donated as part of the city’s Red, White and Blue Program.
U.S. Army Pvt. Jason Howard, who grew up in Soldotna and attended Cook Inlet Academy, is one of 53 area military men and women stationed overseas whose names were entered into a drawing for the jacket.
Organizer Mayor Dave Carey said while he and his brother, Mike Carey, were going around town soliciting contributions of items to be sent to troops, Mick Galic, manager of the Soldotna Safeway, said he wanted to donate the jacket. Mayor Carey said he thought it would be a good idea to raffle it off during the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce lunch last week.
Howard, the son of Nancy Myers of Soldotna and Curt Howard of El Cajon, Calif., is stationed with the Army Combat Engineers in Germany and due to be deployed to Iraq in February. While attending Cook Inlet Academy, he was involved in Little League, basketball and wrestling and has been described as a computer guru.
His sister, Chelsey Howard, also is on the Red, White and Blue list. She is an Army specialist serving as a combat medic at Fort Hood, Texas, and expected to be deployed to Iraq in June.
With the fast-approaching end of the school year, the Red, White and Blue Program will go on hiatus for the summer.
Before it does, though, a truckload of donated goods -- particularly canned and jarred Alaska salmon -- will roll to Fort Richardson for shipment to the 53 soldiers and Marines on the mayor’s list.
A driver for Lynden Transport heard about the program on the radio and called Mayor Carey asking how Lynden could help.
“Through a call to Sen. (Tom) Wagoner, we arranged to have the items shipped to the troops in Iraq, but we needed a way to get them to Fort Rich,” Carey said.
Driver Rick Epling called City Hall saying he had “cleared it with the powers that be, and Lynden stepped up to the plate.”
The trucking firm offered a 40-foot trailer that will be driven to Anchorage on Thursday evening.
Epling said he and Lori Van Rooyen in customer service worked with Operations Supervisor Tim Koerber to arrange for the truck.
“We’ve got people at the city shops that will put everything on pallets and shrink wrap it,” Carey said.
By Friday, he did not know exactly how much would be going to Fort Richardson, but so far, the cargo includes Girl Scout cookies from three troops, at least two pairs of socks collected by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Ladies Auxiliary for each military person, bandanas donated by Sweeney’s Clothing and canned fish donated by individuals.
The Red, White and Blue Program began four years ago, asking community residents, particularly students, to write letters and greeting cards to Soldotna-area men and women stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The program continued for two years then stopped for one and was resurrected with the help of Soldotna Middle School students last September.
“We got lots of Christmas cards,” said Carey about the last holiday season. “Christmas was just awesome.”
Interest tapered off in January, and Carey decided the program needed a theme.
One Soldotna mother told the mayor of her son, who reported his unit was not on the list to receive military-issued coffee, and they desperately needed it.
“So we did coffee as the theme,” Carey said.
That drive ended with just under 100 pounds of coffee being donated, half of which came from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Soldotna. Shipping of 50 pounds was paid for by the American Legion post in Kenai, and the Soldotna Rotary Club shipped 30 pounds, Carey said.
“In March, three troops of Girl Scouts started bringing in cookies, so it became ‘Girl Scout Cookie Month,’” he said.
Wanting to wind up the year with a big finish, Carey said he decided “A Taste of Alaska” would be the theme for April, asking people to donate canned or jarred Alaska salmon and halibut.
Donations still are being accepted. Items may be brought to Soldotna City Hall, Redoubt Elementary or Soldotna Middle schools, the Soldotna VFW post, Tustumena Smokehouse, Hawk’s Games, Fred Meyer, Safeway, Sweeney’s, the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce and the Vet Center in the Red Diamond Center. Donations are being collected in Cooper Landing at Mile 49.8 of the Sterling Highway.
In addition to canned fish, items needed include cards and letters, eye cleaner, Q-tips, baby wipes, foot powder and socks.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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