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NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — Americans hoping to help the casualties of war are donating everything from phone cards to underwear to recovering U.S. servicemembers in Europe.

Bases in Spain and Germany have been deluged with donations from people wanting to cheer up American troops injured in Iraq. The volume of gifts to patients at Fleet Hospital Eight in southern Spain has led to Operation Rota Comfort, a program to collect shower kit items.

The Morale, Welfare and Recreation department, along with the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, is helping organize the drive.

“What we wanted to do was kind of be a centralized point to communicate with people and have donation points where people can leave things,” said Bill Bray, base recreation services director.

Collection bins at the naval station’s commissary, gym and other locations collect such items as hairbrushes, lip balm, razors, shaving cream, toothpaste, toothbrushes and deodorant. Even underwear is in demand by patients.

Some injured servicemembers, many of them wounded in fighting in Iraq, arrive with nothing more than the gown tied loosely around their back. They can expect to stay at the hospital a few days to a couple of weeks as they recover.

Chris Campbell, a Marine warrant officer who sustained a shrapnel wound in Iraq, arrived in Rota with little more than a T-shirt and a battered chemical protection suit. But since his arrival, he has been given some clothes and a shower kit.

“The support was above what I could have hoped for,” he said. “The community support has been phenomenal.”

Volunteers at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany have collected so many items for injured troops that they have filled all their storage space, said Loretta Wood, a chaplain’s assistant who helped organize the drive.

“It is coming in by the pallet,” said Wood, who works for Landstuhl’s pastoral services office.

Volunteers, whom Wood calls her “angels,” have collected clothing and personal items since early last month for soldiers wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Before that, Wood and others were helping soldiers injured in Operation Enduring Freedom.

The walking wounded can look through a clothes closet set up at the hospital’s Deployed Warrior Medical Management Center, which keeps track of outpatients. Volunteers make deliveries to patients who can’t leave their rooms. Soldiers also often get items donated from the military exchange system, such as shoes, underwear, socks and luggage. Clothing drives by volunteers in the Kaiserslautern military community and the Air Force Aid Society, along with local thrift store drives, have helped fill any gaps.

“They are receiving items with a grateful heart. A thankful heart,” Wood said.

In Rota, MWR has created “Morale Cart,” mobile units that have reading material, Game Boy games and music CDs. Sailors wheel the carts around the 250-bed hospital each day.

“We came up with a variety of ideas to help raise their spirits,” Bray said.

— Stars and Stripes reporter Marni McEntee contributed to this story.

Want to help?

Organizers of Operation Rota Comfort say they have more than enough donated items for wounded servicemembers. However, you can contact your local Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society about making a monetary donation to the nonprofit organization.


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