FORT BENNING, GA - Volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Chattahoochee Valley and Davis Broadcasting packed more than 50 care packages Friday at the National Infantry Museum to ship to Soldiers in Iraq.

The project originated with Sally Gowins, special programs and volunteer recruitment coordinator for Big Brother Big Sisters, who wanted to plan a fun day at the museum for "Bigs" and "Littles" in the program while tying in community service.

Gowins, a military spouse, said she knows firsthand how much a small gesture, like sending a care package, can mean to a deployed Soldier.

"My husband is about to go back to Iraq," she said, "and I see how important it is for them to know how much we appreciate what they're doing. They defend us every day. They stand up for us - this is the least we can do. It's not just a box full of stuff. It's from the heart; it's personal, and that's what counts."

After gathering donations from drop-off locations around the community for three weeks, Gowins thought Patriot Day would make "the perfect wrap up for everything," she said. "I think Sept. 11 makes us all stop and think exactly how close as a nation we came to possible disaster, and that's why the Soldiers do what they do."

Adults and children, matched through the mentorship program, wrote letters to Soldiers to add to the items in their care packages.

Willie Barnes, 11, said that in his letter, he thanked the Soldiers for their service.
"I came out here with my big brother Josh to support the Soldiers," Willie said. "They could have been at home with their family. They didn't have to go overseas to help our country out. But they decided to do it, and I just thank them for putting their life on the line."

Special Agent Nicole Fermanis, Criminal Investigation Command, brought her little sister, 9-year-old Chakayla Flagg, to help prepare the care packages.

Fermanis said she had Soldiers from her previous unit currently deployed in Iraq, and it was with them in mind she volunteered her time.

"I have (received care packages), and it's an amazing feeling," she said. "Anything at all, even the smallest thing, means something. Even if it's a card with your signature on it, you thought enough to pick out that card and send it to them. It's just nice to know the Americans you're protecting care enough to send you something. When you get your down time over there, that's what keeps you going. You just know you're fighting for something."

To send a care package to a Soldier who receives limited mail, Gowins suggests logging on to

The packages will be shipped to Soldiers from Fort Benning and to several Soldiers listed on the Any Soldier Web site.

To find out more about Big Brothers Big Sisters, call 706-327-3760.