Wheeler's 599th Transportation Group helps its own during holidays
December 18, 2008
WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD, Hawaii - The 599th Transportation Group at Wheeler Army Airfield is getting into the spirit of the holidays by sponsoring an Army family.
The Smock family grew from two members to six, Oct. 8, when Belinda Garza-Smock had quadruplets Caiden Matthew, Christian Thomas, Cameron Matthew and Chloe Isla at Tripler Army Medical Center.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Smock is a section sergeant for a communications squad at C Company of the 307th Integrated Theater Signal Battalion. His wife, Belinda Garza-Smock, is a registered nurse at Hawaii Medical Center.
"It's the season of giving, and if we can give to others, it makes us feel good as well," said Navy Cmdr. Thomas LaCoss, deputy commander, 599th Transportation Group.
Sgt. 1st Class Vernon Williams, 599th first sergeant, is leading the effort to sponsor a family. He said members of the group who remained at Wheeler last year came up with the idea to adopt a family when 40 percent of the group was deployed to Kuwait.
"Last year at Christmas, the family support group created this project while we were deployed," Williams said. "It's a tradition now, and we're keeping it going."
Andrea Yahiku, Valerie Van Vleet and Ruby Ragragola, the members of the group who led the effort last year, have been invaluable in helping Williams with this year's project.
Van Vleet said she spoke with Yahiku, group management technician, about doing something charitable for Christmas early in the 2007 holiday season. She recalled when she was a platoon sergeant in the Marine Corps; they had found families who needed help around the holidays.
Yahiku ran with the idea by finding a family who was having trouble, Van Vleet said.
Williams did the same this year.
"I called ACS (Army Community Service) looking for people who are having financial difficulties through the holidays," Williams said. "I left my name and number, and they got in touch with the family, who called me. We talked about what we could do to help out.
"She's a registered nurse and her husband's an E-6 in the military, but I know one child is difficult financially," said Williams, whose wife, Angel, gave birth to their fourth child, Noah, in July. "Four kids at one time is a big burden."
Belinda Garza-Smock said she and her husband had planned for a child and were financially prepared to have a baby.
"But four at once is just too much," she said.
"We've set up an angel tree that has a list of things the family said they needed," said Williams "So far we've had a huge success. Some bought gift cards, and some took the angels off the tree to buy presents themselves. This starts the year off right for the family."
Ragragola, operations systems administrator, said she is doing the shopping for members of the 599th who either do not have the time or do not enjoy shopping.
"I love to shop," Ragragola said, "and some of the guys don't know where to buy things, so it's fun for me."
"Soldiers want to help other Soldiers when they need it," said Williams. "Then they can help someone else when they are able to. That's how it's supposed to work."
Garza-Smock said she was not sure when she could plan to go back to work as a registered nurse.
"Child care is so expensive. Even on base, it's $500 a month per child, so the four of them would be $2,000.
"I finished my bachelor's two weeks ago. I'd planned to go into a master's program. But God has his own plan. It's as if he said, 'I want to bless you with four babies.'
"They are blessings," she added, smiling at the quadruplets.
For now, Garza-Smock's time is taken up by changing, feeding, cleaning, burping and trying to get the babies to sleep.
"I get up by 6:30, if not earlier, and gather up the dirty bottles to wash," she said. "I try to wake up before the babies, to get an early start on the day."
She said the quads go through about 32 bottles and 40-50 diapers a day.
Smock and Garza-Smock said they are also very thankful to the 307th Signal Battalion's C Co.
"They have supported us from day one," Garza-Smock said, "and they are still giving us great support."
Van Vleet said she is happy with the 599th's effort to give during the holiday season.
"It's nice to give at Christmas. It should make your heart feel good," Van Vleet said. "That's what Christmas is all about."
LaCoss agreed, saying he hopes the 599th will continue the tradition in coming years.
"Last year we sponsored a family with triplets, and this year we have quadruplets. I don't know; I guess next year we'll be looking for quintuplets," he said, laughing.