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Volunteers paint ornaments for troops overseas

October 20, 2013 Updated: October 22, 2013 at 11:20 am
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photo - Kaitlynn Jenkins, 8, paints an ornament during an event to make Ornaments for Airmen and Soldiers that are currently deployed, at the Southeast Armed Services YMCA in Colorado Springs, Colorado on Saturday, October 12, 2013. (Kent Nishimura/The Gazette)
Kaitlynn Jenkins, 8, paints an ornament during an event to make Ornaments for Airmen and Soldiers that are currently deployed, at the Southeast Armed Services YMCA in Colorado Springs, Colorado on Saturday, October 12, 2013. (Kent Nishimura/The Gazette) 

There's nothing more miserable than being forgotten while serving overseas.

Laurelee Manchester remembers well the two years she spent in Turkey as a child while her parents were stationed there in the 1980s.

For many lower-ranking airmen, money was tight and contact with home infrequent.

"They would say, 'I'm not expecting to get any more than toiletries for Christmas,'" said Manchester, the wife of an airman stationed at Schriever Air Force Base.

"People forget that there are troops not on the battlefield who don't get presents at all during the holidays."

Manchester set out on Oct. 12 to right that wrong with her third annual Ornaments for Airmen and Soldiers event, held at the Armed Services YMCA.

Volunteers were invited to decorate stocking-, snowman- and star-shaped ornaments - and make paper-chain garland and write cards - for troops stationed overseas outside of combat zones.

A duplicate event was held Saturday at Peterson Air Force Base.

In all, nearly 500 kids and adults were expected to decorate nearly 1,300 ornaments made by 30 volunteers from nearly 200 pounds of clay.

The ornaments will soon be sent to countries such as Kuwait and Korea, where local troops are stationed.

"I want to make sure they get something that reminds them of Christmases gone by," she said.

As a jazzy instrumental version of "The First Noel" wafted through the YMCA's community room, volunteer Caroline Williams watched children paint ornaments and thought of her own.

Williams' husband - Tech Sgt. Paul Williams, a space operator stationed at Peterson Air Force Base - left two weeks ago for a yearlong deployment to Thule, Greenland.

She and her three children will spend Christmas without him.

Though Williams takes comfort in knowing that her husband isn't in a combat zone, there are no guarantees that her family will see him again. A freak accident or illness could take his life at any time, she said.

"They're still away from home, from their comfort zone," she said of her husband and his comrades.

At a nearby table, Gary Larson, 13, sprinkled a wet red-white-and-blue star-shaped ornament with a pinch of gold glitter.

He gingerly blew off the excess glitter, then gave the patriotic decoration another dose of sparkle.

Gary's inspiration: his father, an airman deployed to Afghanistan who has previously served in countries such as Qatar and Uzbekistan.

The teen was "thinking about the Air Force and my dad" while decorating his ornament and hoping someone like his father received it, he said.

Army Sgt. Benjamin Simpson could count on one hand the number of days he'd been home from Kuwait as he decorated ornaments with his daughters Lilly, 2, and Katie, 1.

While at the Y, Simpson saw a sign for the event and decided to "paint some ornaments for other soldiers."

"I always love getting random stuff like letters and art from kids when I'm deployed," he said.

"Kids are funny - they tell you what they think in their letters," he said. "Some of the stuff is pretty out there, and some of the stuff is really good.

"It's always good to have a little bit of brutal honesty from home."

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