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Care packages spread holiday cheer to Iraq

Sven Schievink and Scott Ervin of South King Fire and Rescue prepare care packages to send to the 110-person Army National Guard 81st Brigade Heavy Combat Team unit that includes Robert Bryant, South King Fire and Rescue firefighter. Bryant is deployed with the National Guard in Iraq for one year. - Jacinda Howard/The Mirror
Sven Schievink and Scott Ervin of South King Fire and Rescue prepare care packages to send to the 110-person Army National Guard 81st Brigade Heavy Combat Team unit that includes Robert Bryant, South King Fire and Rescue firefighter. Bryant is deployed with the National Guard in Iraq for one year.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard/The Mirror

South King Fire and Rescue firefighter Robert Bryant will spend the holidays away from his family — but a reminder of their love is expected to arrive by mail.

While his wife, Monika, and their daughter, Bailey, will open presents in Auburn, Bryant too will open a family gift while on deployment with the Army National Guard in Iraq. On Nov. 24, Monika along with South King Fire and Rescue firefighters and personnel prepared care packages to send to Bryant and the 110 members of his unit with the National Guard’s 81st Brigade Heavy Combat Team. The boxes were the fire district’s idea.

“It totally came out of nowhere,” Monika Bryant said. “I’m so overwhelmed by the fire department. I’m so blown away by how much people care.”

The packages include much-desired items such as specialty foods. Canned tuna, granola bars and ramen noodles are on the soldiers’ most-wanted lists. Socks and floss were thrown in for the men and women. Coloring books and pencils, stickers, colored paper and erasers were included for the Iraqi children the soldiers encounter. Each National Guard member in Bryant’s unit will receive a care package with the treats.

“It’s part of giving back to those guys because they give to us,” SKFR spokeswoman Donna Conner said.

Tables full of postal boxes, marked with the men’s and women’s names, were filled with the items Monday. Bryant’s care package featured a special gift: Several red plastic firefighting hats for the Iraqi children.

Also included in each box is a handwritten letter from students at Parkside Elementary, Brigadoon Elementary and Rainier View Elementary schools. Teachers Hannah Woodall, Laurie Peil and John Ottele helped the young students write letters of appreciation and good will. Bailey’s classmates at Lee Hill Elementary in Auburn also plan to send letters, Monika said. The second-graders are excited to write to the soldiers, she said.

Bryant knows the packages are headed his way, but Monika is unsure whether he has shared that information with his fellow soldiers. It is uncertain when the packages will arrive in Iraq. Shipping takes three to four weeks. SKFR is still searching for a way to send the packages without having to pay a $10.95-per-box shipping fee.

If need be, the $1,204 needed to send the goods will be drawn from money set aside to purchase items for the care packages. A total of $2,000 was donated by members of the South King Firefighters Foundation, Conner said.

However, the packages are sent and whatever is included will be appreciated by the soldiers, Monika said. The fire district’s commitment to one of its own and his family has warmed her and her daughter, she said.

“I love them from the bottom of my heart,” she said. “I can’t even put into words how grateful I am to be part of their family.”

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Anyone interested in donating money or services to help ship the care packages to Iraq may contact Donna Conner at (253) 946-7246.

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