For Donna Anderson, heroes are homegrown.
Her mother, father and brother all served in the U.S. military. And now her son, SFC Cecil (Clarke) Anderson, is on his third deployment as a member of the U.S. Army's Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Unit. This time he is in Kosovo leading a platoon of soldiers that teach and mentor the Kosovo Security Forces’ EOD teams.
“It is amazing to me how [Clarke] is able to conquer his fears. As a child, Clarke was afraid of heights, so in high school, he took up pole vaulting. In college he took up rappelling, and in the Army he tackled skydiving,” said Anderson.
“I admire his courage, his wisdom and his determination. I am proud to call him my son — to me he is a hero.”
This deployment has been a bit easier for Anderson. When her son served in Afghanistan the past two assignments, communication was sporadic at best. This time she has been able to email and Skype with her son.
She has also received a lot of support from her co-workers at Southern California Edison (SCE) who have been volunteering their time and money to put together care packages for her son Clarke and members of his platoon. From everyday comforts like instant coffee, magazines and protein shakes, the employees are helping to bring a bit of home to the troops.
“I am especially pleased to know that we are doing something to show our appreciation for the sacrifices our military men and women make on a daily basis,” said Anderson, who wants to thank all of her co-workers for their support. “Not only are they serving our country, but they are also sacrificing time with their own families to do so.
“I have wanted to do something like this for a long time, and didn’t know where to start. This has provided an opportunity for me and others to participate and give something back.”
The idea to start an effort to prepare care packages came from Donna’s manager at SCE, Justina Garcia. Garcia says she wanted to find a way to bring employees together to offer Anderson emotional support.
“I believe that supporting our work colleagues through the ups and downs of life improves our overall work environment,” she said. “I wanted to find a way to bring employees together to offer Donna emotional support, thank her son's platoon for their service, and establish an effort that we may repeat for other employees who have family serving in the military.”
For Clarke and his platoon, receiving care packages reminds them of home and makes their deployment away from friends and family a bit easier.
Clarke was deployed to Kosovo earlier this year and is scheduled to return to his wife Jennifer, daughter Bailey, 9, and son Cecil, 7, in Colorado in early 2014. As a member of the EOD section, he and his soldiers are on call 24/7. In addition to their teaching assignments, they can be called on to provide safe transport or investigate a suspicious package.
The platoon’s base in Kosovo has some nice amenities like a gym, Internet, microwave and 110V and 220V capabilities. But in addition to the rigor and stresses that come with being a part of the bomb squad, the soldiers fight a daily battle with the monotony.
“We get joy from the simple things here. Sometimes it is a good workout, telling stories, or receiving mail,” said Clarke, who was happy to hear about SCE’s current efforts. “Care packages allow the simple pleasure to continue for a while longer.”
SCE employees are currently collecting donations of books, video games, cards and food that will be mailed to Clarke and his platoon at the end of August.
“I wanted to help get involved with the care package efforts because I know firsthand what the living conditions are like in that part of the world, and I know how nice it is to get a care package when you're there,” said SCE employee Jess Stonefield-Fantin, who has worked in Bosnia through USAID.
“When Donna mentioned that her son was in Kosovo, my heart was immediately warmed. I always love meeting people familiar with that part of the world, and I definitely found the military/UN presence quite comforting when I was working in Sarajevo.”
For Clarke, he’s looking forward to seeing friends and family, playing with his kids and riding his motorcycle when he returns home early next year. But what he’s looking forward to the most is not being on call 24/7.
“Even when you are relaxing you can never totally relax,” said Clarke. “That takes a toll that you do not realize until you return and can finally relax.”
For Anderson, she’s counting down the days till her son returns home.
"I am looking forward to Clarke’s safe return and visiting him and his family in early 2014 when he returns from Kosovo,” she said. “It is a huge relief when he returns to the U.S. from overseas. Things feel normal again, and I know that he is just a phone call away.”
For more information about care packages for U.S. soldiers, visit AnySoldier.com.