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thedrifter
07-10-08, 07:28 AM
Published: Thursday, July 10, 2008

Everett woman's boxes for U.S. troops are packed with care

By Justin Arnold, Herald Writer
EVERETT -- Jody Harnish was responsible for an ambush in Afghanistan that left five Marines laughing and soaking wet.

She should know. She supplied the water balloons.

Harnish, 50, of Everett, volunteers with the Soldiers Angels, a nonprofit organization that sends letters and care packages to servicemen and women worldwide. Volunteers adopt soldiers, sending them home-baked cookies and comfort food packed with the nostalgia of home or other items they need.

"I've sent them just about everything. Recreational equipment, snacks, decorations for their mess halls," Harnish said. "We even sent a medical unit scrubs because it was getting hard for them to getting them through military channels."

Harnish has been volunteering for Soldiers Angels since Operation Desert Shield and, over the years, she's sent care packages to about 20 soldiers. She's currently keeping in touch with four soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Her empathy for men and women in uniform goes back to Vietnam, when soldiers who wanted mail would have their names and addresses printed in the town newspaper.

In her opinion, she said that the biggest need soldiers have is simply a kind word from home, wherever that might be.

"A lot of these boys don't hear from family, and some of them don't have any family to hear from," Harnish said. "They just want to hear from someone, anyone. They want a connection. It doesn't seem like a lot, but to these guys it's everything."

Patti Patton-Bader, founder of Soldiers Angels, which is based in Pasadena, Calif., said letters from home make a difference in more ways than one.

"It's a proven fact that soldiers who are supported come home with less (post-traumatic-stress syndrome) issues," Patton-Bader said. "It's our goal to make sure that every soldier who wants help gets it. That's what makes Soldiers Angels like Jody so important. Without her we couldn't give the love and care to the people who deserve it."

Harnish has developed a matronly relationship with many of these soldiers and has seen the difference her letters make.

"These are not just big guys that are heavily armed. It's gotten to the point where we are practically trading baby pictures with many of them," Harnish said. "They get so mushy sometimes."

Harnish regularly sends packages to Afghanistan, sometimes on a weekly basis. Packages include the usual sundries. Her children Joe, 13, and Takla, 16, make an extra effort to make sure every package is perfect.

"Takla is the quality control expert, making sure every box is full of what they need," Harnish said. "Joe makes sure that there is plenty of junk food -- and water balloons."

So far, Harnish hasn't lost an adopted soldier in combat, though the thought sometimes keeps her up at nights.

"I haven't lost a soldier yet," Harnish said. "And God willing, I won't."

Reporter Justin Arnold: 425-339-3432 or jarnold@heraldnet.com.

Ellie