VILSECK, Germany -- The American Red Cross Vilseck chapter teamed up with their counterparts in Hohenfels to aid in providing over 2,000 comfort kits to Soldiers leaving from rotation in Hohenfels Sept. 27.
The operation began when Amy Cates, the community readiness and resiliency integrator for U.S. Army Garrison Italy, reached out to the Red Cross to assist with reintegration efforts for when the Soldiers in the 173rd Airborne Brigade returned to Vicenza from their training exercise in Hohenfels.
"The vision Ms. Cates had, [which was] to create an opportunity for Soldiers to get information on upcoming events for when they returned to Italy, while also receiving a comfort kit from the Red Cross was unique, and we were very excited to work together to execute it," said American Red Cross Field Coordinator Savannah Robinson. "Overall, our mission is to serve those who serve us, and we hope we provided a little bit of comfort by helping to ease the transition back from the training exercise."
The Hohenfels team received the request for support earlier that week, and with three days notice to execute the request, the American Red Cross team in Hohenfels worked around the clock to make the project come together. On the day of the distribution, volunteers from Grafenwoehr, Vilseck and Hohenfels worked together to execute an undertaking of this scale. The entire Red Cross team in Bavaria had to work together with community partners to execute the mission.
According to Robinson, providing comfort kits to such a large number of Soldiers was a joint effort from the entire Red Cross team in Bavaria and with community partners such as the Exchange and USO.
"The Exchange team worked diligently to meet our request of 2,000 comfort kit items with as little as three days notice," Robinson said. "There wasn't a request they did not meet, and we are immensely grateful for their support."
Items were shipped from Poland and all over Germany. The items in the comfort kits were shampoo, conditioner, body wash, wash cloths, deodorant, toothpaste, tooth brush, mouth wash, tissues, hand sanitizer and baby wipes. Pop-Tarts, snacks and fruit were provided by the USO Bavaria team.
Exchange workers also provided transportation support when the American Red Cross hit a miscalculation snag.
"Not realizing the volume of 2,000 comfort kit items, we soon found out our original plan to use an SUV to transport the goods was not going to work," said Robinson. "The manager of the Exchange in Hohenfels, Daniel Czichran, jumped into action and suggested that his team could assist with vans for delivery."
Once items were loaded into the vans by Red Cross volunteers and Exchange workers, they were delivered to Camp Albertshof and offloaded with the support from the 173rd team with a forklift. There, American Red Cross volunteers and staff from both the Vilseck and Hohenfels team immediately began assembling the 2,000 kits.
As the 173rd Soldiers began to roll in to Camp Albertshof from the training area, they were each handed a comfort kit bag by one of the volunteers. When it began to rain, the team began delivering the bags to each barracks building until all of the bags were gone.
American Red Cross volunteer and Soldier, Wilberto Rivera, said he knows from his own experiences on training exercises how invaluable hygiene kits are.
"Soldiers getting back from the field probably run out of personal hygiene products or even lose them [in the process] of moving from point A to B," Rivera said. "There are also situations when the Shoppette is closed when you finally make it to Albertshof, so it's very nice to come back from the field and to have comfort kits."
Having been in training exercises in the Hohenfels area himself over the past five years, Rivera said answering the call to provide additional assistance was a no-brainer.
"I was very motivated [to help] because I have been in a Hohenfels field training exercise, and I identify with the cause," Rivera said. "So I didn't have to think twice."