REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- As the nation remembers the thousands lost on what has become known as Patriot Day, there is another upcoming national holiday that recognizes those service members who have fought in the Global War on Terrorism launched by the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.
The Day of the Deployed, set for Oct. 26, is a national holiday begun in 2011 that will grow its own local roots this year with a ceremony at the Veterans Memorial in downtown Huntsville. The event will recognize the 10-year anniversary of the first deployment of Alabama National Guard troops in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the subsequent deployments of other Alabama service members since then.
"This is a day when we will honor anyone who has deployed, who is deployed or who will be deployed, and the families who support them," said Kiley Kinser Henry, organizer of the event.
"A lot has happened in our nation and with our military since 9/11. This is our way of thanking those who have deployed -- both military and civilian -- for their service."
The Oct. 26 event will begin at 2 p.m. with a "meet and greet" at the Huntsville Depot Roundhouse. The event will then move to the Veterans Memorial for a 3 p.m. ceremony that will include comments from state Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, who is a retired Marine with service during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and Operation Restore Hope in 1992-93. Both state and Huntsville city proclamations will be read at the ceremony, which will be emceed by local military retirees John Perry and Dave Carney. There will also be a wreath dedication for deployed Soldiers and a brick dedication commemorating the day.
The event will include performances from the Army Materiel Command Band and the Lee High School chorus. WDRM Radio, which is publicizing the event, will sponsor a Treats for Troops table where people can make candy donations for troops. Other vendors at the event will sell products or collect items in support of deployed troops, including Tide for Troops, Buffalo Wild Wings, Patriot Cigars and Mary Kay Cosmetics. There will also be an area where the public can sign cards and write letters to be delivered to deployed troops.
Henry and her committee of Day of the Deployed volunteers have gained the support of Army Community Service and the Redstone-Huntsville Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army in organizing the local Day of the Deployed event.
"We need to do something in Huntsville to recognize the troops of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and other places in support of the Global War on Terrorism," she said.
"Many dads, brothers, sisters and anyone who has been deployed or who can relate to having a loved one deployed are invited to be a part of this event. We hope to set a precedence in Huntsville by making this an annual event recognizing our deployed heroes."
Henry is best known in the local community for her work with A Smile For Troops, a nonprofit group she started to deliver care packages to deployed Soldiers.
"When my husband was deployed in 2008-09, I would send him care packages and he would always tell me I was sending him too much. So, he would give whatever he didn't want to other Soldiers who were getting nothing sent to them," Henry said. "After he returned, I continued sending care packages to whatever Soldiers needed them."
A Smile For Troops was established in February 2009. Today, the group sends care packages to about 200 Soldiers every quarter. It has mailed more than 5,000 care packages since it began.
"I like to send things in the care packages that are fun and maybe different from the standard things that Soldiers get," Henry said.
Henry relies on the generosity of donations from individuals and several local groups -- including the Huntsville Center for Technology and Hampton Cove Elementary and Middle schools -- to stuff flat rate mailing boxes full of goodies for deployed service members. Students from the two Hampton Cove schools often assist with packing the boxes while students from the technology center often make homemade cookies and other treats for the packages.
A Smile For Troops will be one of many organizations set up at information booths at the Day of the Deployed event. It will have Smile For Troops T-shirts for purchase.
Henry, who is a Huntsville City Schools substitute teacher and the mom of two elementary aged children, spends a lot of her time working with A Smile For Troops and now organizing the Day of the Deployed.
"I have to help other people. I want to be involved in something bigger than myself," she said.
"Most of the Soldiers we send care packages to don't know who I am. And there are times when it gets tough to pay the bills of preparing the packages and sending them. But if I stop doing this, I might not be there for that one person who really needs a care package. I won't stop until the war is done and our last Soldier comes home."
Henry has that same kind of commitment for the Day of the Deployed. It is an event for service members and their families that she hopes to continue for many years to come.
Editor's note: Those who want to volunteer to assist with the Day of the Deployed or A Smile For Troops, or who need more information can visit both organizations on Facebook. The website for A Smile For Troops is www.asmilefortroops.com.