The soldiers from Rock Hill’s Army National Guard unit are back from Afghanistan, returned to their civilian lives.
But students from Dutchman Creek Middle School – just down the street from the armory where the 178th Combat Engineer Battalion is based – want to make sure the soldiers’ families have all they need, even between deployments.
So the students, led by the school’s Beta Club honor society, collected food and other items over the past month for the families.
Not just a few items, either. The students collected enough macaroni and cheese, boxed cereal and grits, toilet paper and other stuff to fill five 55-gallon drums. All the items will re-stock the food pantry at the armory, which assists families when times are tough.
“We just wanted to help out the soldiers any way that we could,” said Sujey Garcia, 13, a seventh-grader at Dutchman Creek.
Principal Norris Williams encouraged the donations, after a student two years ago led a similar drive while her father was deployed to Afghanistan.
“Any time our students can help others – and this is a great cause – we try to help the students learn the power of giving,” Williams said.
More than 160 soldiers of the 178th returned at the end of May after a year in Afghanistan. In the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, more than 700 soldiers from 178th’s armories in Rock Hill, Fort Mill, Chester, Lancaster and Wellford have been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and homeland security missions in the United States.
Deployments sometimes cause economic strain on families as the soldier, who often is the bread winner, is gone for months at a time. That leaves wives and children and other family to try to survive the deployment, too.
Sgt. First Class Tracey Colvin, who has been deployed with the 178th two times to Afghanistan in the past six years, said donations can be crucial to helping families make it. York County’s people as a whole, and the Dutchman Creek students in this instance, have been extremely generous as soldiers deploy and integrate back into civilian life.
“We really appreciate what these kids have done for all of us and the families in the unit,” Colvin said. “This shows they support the troops.”
Anne Cash, volunteer coordinator of the 178th Family Readiness Group that helps families of soldiers in the unit, started the food pantry several years ago. The pantry has given away tons of donated food and other items to the families of soldiers from the five area armories under the 178th’s command.
“I can’t thank the students at this school enough,” Cash said. “They are helping out the same soldiers who fight for them.”
Student Mark Morris, 13, a seventh-grader, summed it up simply.
“It was cool to help these soldiers. They help us all the time.”