Mideast edition, Sunday, July 1, 2007

VICENZA, Italy — Many of the soldiers assigned to Caserma Ederle are now calling various bases in Afghanistan home — at least for the next year or so.

Their kids aren’t headed downrange. But that doesn’t mean they can’t have an impact on the mission.

Operation Helping Hands, designed to provide for needy Afghan children as well as shore up single American servicemembers, will be launched this month.

“It allows all of the children in (Child and Youth Services) — whether they have a deployed parent or not — to get involved,” said Tamara Browning, program operations specialist.

Vicenza rallied to support a similar effort, Operation Help Out, when soldiers from the base deployed to Afghanistan in 2005-2006. Browning said this effort is similar and will last throughout the deployment, which is expected to extend well into 2008.

Children in various age groups around the base will take on different tasks. Younger children will draw pictures and write letters expressing their support. Those in the middle will pack donated goods into packages and mail them. Older children will create videos of life on the home front or come up with their own projects.

Not that the adults are going to be left out.

Browning said people have already inquired about donating goods or volunteering time, even though the program hadn’t even been announced yet. In fact, there are still some details to work out.

She said contacts downrange will conduct surveys to see what kind of goods Afghan children in their areas need. The last time, warm clothing, shoes, blankets and candy — especially lollipops — were on the buy list. The command is also going to provide a list of goods that single soldiers desire. Donation boxes will be located around the post.

Operation Help Out didn’t focus on such soldiers, but children in the community are more than willing to send their greetings, she said.

“They know they’re far away,” she said. “They could be lonely. They could be sad. And [the kids] are doing something to help.”

Another change from the last deployment is that 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team soldiers are now stationed in Schweinfurt and Bamberg in Germany.

Browning said Bamberg is likely to launch a similar program and efforts on all three bases will be made to support all the soldiers from the brigade downrange. She said a list of preferred goods for donation will eventually be circulated and donations will be welcome from around the globe. Those looking to donate can send her an e-mail at:

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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