By Megan Locke Simpson, Fort Campbell CourierAugust 8, 2014
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- Briyanna Martinez clutches her brand-new backpack with unmatched delight as she patiently waits on the Operation Homefront Tennessee/Kentucky office lawn on Hedgerow Court, July 31.
"It's pretty," said the 5 year old who entered kindergarten on post this week at Lincoln Elementary.
Briyanna was one of 1,000 military children within the local area to receive a backpack stuffed with free school supplies from the nonprofit program, which partnered again this year with Dollar Tree to provide back-to-school gear for the children of privates through staff sergeants, as well as Wounded Warriors. The program, known as the Back-to-School Brigade, is now in its eighth year nationwide.
The program requires recipients to pre-register to receive the supplies. A similar event was held at Fort Knox, Ky., July 28, and another giveaway is being held Tuesday for Kentucky National Guard Families in Frankfort. It will be the first year for the National Guard event, explained Operation Homefront Tennessee/Kentucky Director Val Amadon. Next year, she plans to launch another Back-to-School Brigade stop for military Families stationed at the Navy base in Millington, Tenn.
At Fort Campbell, backpacks were distributed to children in kindergarten through 12th grade, with different supplies provided based on grade. Amadon said volunteers tried to match what was put into the backpacks with common items put on local school supply lists.
"General school supplies, you know, paper, pens, pencils, crayons, scissors, glue," said the first-year program director. "… It doesn't include everything that's going to be on those lists, but every little bit helps. Our purpose in doing it is to relieve some of that financial burden from our military Families."
The Back-to-School Brigade program falls in line with Operation Homefront's national mission, which Amadon said is "to provide emergency financial and other assistance to our military Families and Wounded Warriors." Amadon added that each backpack should save parents $25 to $50 per child (depending on grade level), and the event as a whole serves as a great morale booster for both military parents and their children.
"Do you remember what it smelled like to get new school supplies when you were a kid? They're all excited about it," Amadon said. "Even the ones who don't want to really go back to school are excited to get new school supplies."
Marquia Harmon, a military spouse with three children, is sending her oldest son, 6-year-old Johnathan, to first grade at Lincoln Elementary this year. She said receiving a backpack for her son is very much appreciated.
"He was really fascinated when she handed him the backpack and put it on his back," Harmon said, of her son's reaction. "He was like, 'Oh, I like this backpack!' … His excitement excites me."
Sergeant Matt Young, a Soldier with E Company, 1st Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, accompanied his wife, Diana, and 6-year-old son, Logan, out to the Back-to-School Brigade giveaway. In Matt's opinion, the Back-to-School Brigade is great because alleviates not only school-related expenses, but extra time spent at the store.
"I think it's easier for us," he said. "If we where to go in the store and be like, 'Hey we need to get you a backpack,' he would probably choose one out that has Transformers or something else. But this eliminates that so we're not spending money, extra money on top of that, getting something that he exactly wants. This is what he's going to get ... I'm a big fan of that."
The Young Family received a backpack for their son, who begins first grade at Marshall Elementary this week, through this program last year as well.
"I think it's really neat that they offer it to us, because school supplies are expensive," Diana added. "Backpacks are expensive."
Operation Homefront Tennessee/Kentucky offers other special events and giveaways throughout the year, including a Baby Shower in September and Holiday House in December. For more information, call (270) 412-9104 or visit www.operationhomefront.net.
Organizations including the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Fort Campbell School Support Services, the American Red Cross and Dell offered additional food, face painting, temporary tattoos and giveaways at the event.