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Pennsylvania women craft personalized cards for soldiers — 516 of them

From left, Diana Carlson, 68, of Millcreek Township, Pa., Rhonda Carlson, 65, of Harborcreek Township, Heidi Fratus, 65, of Millcreek Township, Gloria Carlson, 64, of Fairview Township, Betsy Coburn 76, of McKean, and Irida Sangemino, 62, of Millcreek Township, make greeting cards recently at Gloria Carlson's home to send to the 516 soldiers in a U.S. Army battalion in Afghanistan commanded by Gloria Carlson's son.

CHRISTOPHER MILLETTE, ERIE (PA.) TIMES-NEWSTNS

By MATTHEW RINK | Erie (Pa.) Times-News | Published: July 1, 2019

ERIE, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — Sitting on folding chairs around a long table in the basement of Gloria Carlson’s Fairview Township home, Carlson and five other women work in assembly-line fashion making greeting cards.

They sift through stacks of blue-and-white card stock and the envelopes into which they’ll fit. One woman stamps the cards with a picture of an open mailbox while another colors between the black lines of the stamp. Another woman applies stickers. And each one signs her name in red ink.

“It keeps us out of the bars,” said Betsy Coburn, 76, the mastermind behind the weekly operation, which started in February.

Jokes aside, the women gather each Tuesday from 12:30 to 4 p.m. for something more serious. They make greeting cards not only for one of Carlson’s sons, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Eric Carlson, but the 515 other soldiers who serve under him in 1st Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment, which is based in Camp Dahlke in Afghanistan. Eric Carlson, 42, flies a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.

“These guys deserve something,” Coburn said. “We thought they needed some cards, so that’s what we started.”

Each of Carlson’s four sons — Michael, Adam, and twins Eric and Ernie — has served in the Army and each has been deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq at one time or another. Eric Carlson, born seven minutes after Ernie, started his fourth deployment in February.

“My brothers were all military and they bought the boys the camo outfits and they had the dog tags and the hats,” said Gloria Carlson, whose father and father-in-law also served. “They would march the boys around the school, so it was inevitable.”

Mom used to send the boys care packages. But this deployment is different, she said.

“There are 10 semi-loads of things that people have sent over, like toiletries and snacks,” said Gloria Carlson, 64. “There’s so much of it over there. So it’s like, what can you do to support them? So I thought at least a card, so they know we’re thinking of them.”

She tried sending chocolates once. They melted.

But she remembers her sons returning home, all of them bringing back the cards and letters they had received while overseas.

“They still have them in boxes, so I know it means a lot to them,” she said.

The group also includes sisters Diana and Rhonda Carlson — Gloria Carlson’s cousins-in-law — and Heidi Fratus and Irida Sangemino.

Gloria Carlson said that this deployment is difficult for Eric Carlson because his two sons are teenagers now and he’s missing sporting events and other activities they’re involved in.

“One of the sons is doing crew and Eric rowed for Mercyhurst, and I think he would’ve loved to have been here for that,” she said.

The women are working on their third batch of 516 cards, which will be sent out sometime in August. A fourth batch will be sent in September or October to welcome the soldiers home before their deployment ends in November.

Fratus, who stamped the phrase “Heroes don’t wear capes, they wear dog tags” onto each card, said it’s been rewarding to gather with the group each week to do something to support the troops.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” she said.

©2019 the Erie Times-News (Erie, Pa.)
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Heidi Fratus, 65, of Millcreek Township, Pa., signs a greeting card.
CHRISTOPHER MILLETTE, ERIE (PA.) TIMES-NEWSTNS

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