By Pfc. Shea Butler, Sgt. 1st Class Sharon McBrideNovember 16, 2006
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 16, 2006) - Body armor, helmet, eyewear - they all offer physical safety, but sometimes it takes digging a little deeper under the uniform to see what really makes Soldiers feel at ease.
It's in the depths of their pockets that you find Soldiers' "lucky charms," items that make them smile, remind them of home and never leave their side.
First Lt. Ryan Pace, an automotive officer with the 143rd Transportation Command in Kuwait, carries an item from his grandfather who passed away in 2003.
"It's a palm size prayer card," he said. "One side has an angel with a prayer on it, and the other has his picture and a poem about gardening.
"I keep this prayer card with me, and it makes me feel like even though he's gone, he's still looking out for me," Pace said. "We don't have much here (while deployed) but it's a piece of home. Soldiers can never have too many reminders of that."
In Iraq, the 1st Cavalry Division's Command Sgt. Maj. Philip Johndrow carries a "Twinkie the Kid," a trinket children use to carry their Twinkies for school lunch.
"My wife sent me Twinkie the Kid during Operation Iraqi Freedom I as a joke, and it hasn't left my side since," the Townsend, Mont., native said.
Twinkie the Kid now wears a Stetson and cowboy boots. He even got a new name - "Cav Kid."
"No matter how bad your day is you can look at the Cav Kid, and he's always smiling," Johndrow said. "You can't help but smile, too."
"My pictures and other items that I got from family members help me get by," said Sgt. Christy Kupiec-Fox, a Soldier with the 226th Division Aviation Support Battalion, in Kuwait.
Besides photos she has her 7-year-old brother's teddy bear, which has his voice recorded in it.
"He kept saying 'a year is a long time,'" she said. "He was so afraid that I would forget him. So he gave me this bear so I wouldn't forget what he sounded like."
Her baby brother also gave her a pillow with his picture on it. And concerned neighbors gave her a cross that she keeps.
"Ware, Mass., is a really small town," she said. And even though it's small, she said, many of its residents have deployed. "It's become a tradition. If someone deploys they always get a cross. All these things make me feel good and safe."
While some items are new from a store, others are mementos steeped in history.
"I have a rosary from my grandfather who served in WWII," said Spc. Joseph Bicchieri, a senior broadcast journalist with the 40th Public Affairs Detachment in Kuwait. "He got it from an Italian prisoner of war."
While on his way to meet up with his unit, Bicchieri's grandfather was on a train. "Someone asked, 'does anyone speak Italian'' he explained. Apparently there was a whole trainload of POWs being transported and one of them needed a translator.
"My grandfather grew up in the U.S., but his father came over from Italy on a boat, so he knew a little bit of the language," he said.
His grandfather knew enough Italian to translate for the man. In a gesture of good will, the POW gave his grandfather the rosary.
"He wanted him to have it. He said he felt that it kept him safe," said Bicchieri. "So my grandfather carried it with him during his service in WWII. Years later, he gave it to me after learning I was leaving for the Middle East. He said it kept him safe, and now he wanted me to be 'kept safe.'
"I'm not the first person to go to war in my family," Bicchieri said. "But my grandfather got through it. And I know that I'm going to get through it too. Having an item like this gives me a lot of comfort. And I know people back home are praying for me."
For Staff Sgt. Brian Grinshaw in Iraq, a gold wedding ring that fits tightly around his right ring finger brings him comfort.
"My dad gave it to me when I was 21. I promised to never take it off and I haven't," said Grinshaw, an Oklahoma City native with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Cavalry Division. "It was my dad's wedding ring from when he was married to my mom."
The ring has traveled with Grinshaw to Kosovo and now to Iraq for a second time.
"I plan on passing this ring on to my son to keep the tradition alive," he said.
For Capt. Elizabeth Witowski, a Pittsburgh native also from HHC, 1st Cav. Div., a Saint Christopher medal that once belonged to her great grandmother is her good luck charm. She keeps it tucked away in an earplug case connected to her protective vest.
She said her father gave it to her for luck on her first deployment and she has kept it with her ever since.
"It seems once something gets you through one deployment, you have to bring it on the next," she said.
If you look deep in the pockets of Lt. Col. Eric Winkie, HHC, 1st Cav. Div., you will find a crucifix blessed by a chaplain during Desert Storm.
"All of my kids have touched it and I don't leave home without it," he said.
The crucifix has traveled with him through Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Kuwait and now back to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
(Editor's note: This story was compiled from releases written by Pfc. Shea Butler of the 7th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment and Sgt. 1st Class Sharon McBride of the 40th Public Affairs Detachment.)