FORWARD OPERATING BASE MASUM GHAR, Afghanistan – Military traditions are often time-honored events that represent a part of military history. One civilian started a subtler tradition nearly two years ago when he mailed a hand-stitched quilt made by members of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4884 from the small town of Spiro, Okla., to Afghanistan.
“I had this idea that the quilt had a much higher calling than to lie in a box,” said Keith May, the original owner of the quilt, via email.
May, who spent nearly 30 years as a sheriff in the Seattle area, won the quilt in a raffle for the Post and decided that instead of letting it collect dust in his home, the quilt could be a source of comfort and warmth for service members in war zones.
The 5-feet by 6-feet, blue blanket adorned with stars and American flags arrived in Afghanistan in the mail just before Christmas 2010 for Sgt. Maj. Aldo Galeana, who became the quilt’s first of many deployed owners.
Galeana cared for the quilt until the end of his deployment when he left the quilt in the hands of a sailor. Before leaving Afghanistan, the sailor passed it off to a soldier who mailed the quilt to another soldier in Afghanistan around January 2012, said May.
That soldier gave the quilt to Sgt. 1st Class Enicka Williams, the assistant operations non-commissioned officer for 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.
For Williams, the quilt was an important aspect of her first deployment.
“It was an honor for me to care for it for the year because too often we may think that a lot of people back in the States don’t care about us or they don’t understand what we’re going through, but this says yes, we care,” the Bronx, N.Y., native explained.
In front of T-walls painted with the emblems of Williams’ unit, she physically continued the tradition and handed off the quilt to Spc. Niomi Wright, a human resource specialist with 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division “Raiders,” here, Nov. 8.
“I feel in passing her the blanket we’re … carrying on kind of like a hope,” said Williams. “It didn’t stop with me; it’s continuing with (Wright).”
To Williams, the blanket was a representation of support, she said.
“Until we all come home, (May) just wants the blanket to stay here,” Williams said. “It’s something to keep us warm (and) to remind us that there are people back home that care about us and believe in what we’re doing.”
Wright said she felt the same.
“I just like the fact that somebody out there that I’ve never met … cares enough about us to build a tradition like this and let us know that even though they don’t know us that they’re supporting us,” she explained.
May’s hope is that he will be able to fly the last soldier to own the quilt in the last unit in Afghanistan to his town to bring the quilt back home and complete the circle, he said.
“The quilt will be home at last and my file will be there to speak of its travels and to bear witness to each and every person who has been its guardian, and to all of the men and women who have served with them,” said May. “My heart has been thrilled and also deeply saddened by the personal accounts that have been written to me.”
Once 4th SBCT, 2nd Infantry Division prepares to leave, Wright plans to carry on the tradition and pass the quilt on to the next unit.
Until then she said she will take care of the quilt for the next nine months as the Raider Brigade partners with Afghan National Security Forces to provide security and promote a safer Afghanistan.