Blankets of Hope: She’s a true ‘Soldier’s Angel’
Published: November 6, 2006 | 5012th good news item since 2003
You’d expect a Swampscott mom whose son and daughter-in-law are both in the Army to support American troops.
But you might not expect this much support; Dorothy Stemniski has made not one, not a few, but dozens of “Blankets of Hope” to comfort wounded soldiers during their recuperation at Landstuhl, Germany. Some of them even return to duty in Iraq and Afghanistan but never without their Blankets of Hope. [A Soldiers Hope: A First-Hand Account of it]
She says her active support for the troops, including son Capt. Peter Stemniski (three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan) and daughter-in-law Maj. Kerrie Stemniski (one in Afghanistan), began when she became aware of an organization called Soldier’s Angels while she was visiting her mom in Pennsylvania. The organization, she says, was selling magnetic ribbons for the back of cars earlier than just about anyone else.
Steminiski kept in touch with Soldier’s Angels, organized by Patti Patton Bader, great-niece of Gen George Patton of World War II and North Shore homestead fame. The organization, aware of summer temperature in Iraq and Afghanistan, soon began providing cooling tubes for soldiers to wear about their necks.
“It’s 130 degrees over there in the summer and the troops are carrying 80 or 100 pounds of equipment on their backs,” Stemniski says with amazement. “The group also provides sand scarves to be worn under goggles and over the soldiers’ ears, keeping the sand out.”
Other volunteers in Soldiers’ Angels don’t do anything but write letters to troops because, as Stemniski says, some get very few if any letters – or e-mails – from home.
“Some volunteers even kind of adopt the parents of the soldier they write to,” she says. “Others actually ship bread machines to the troops because, believe me, they are anxious for good bread.”
Still other volunteers make mittens and booties for wounded troops.
“Did you know those big transport planes they use to take wounded soldiers to Germany are not heated?” she asks about Air Force C-130 planes. “Many of the injured troops get cold along the way way – and a few of them are naked because their uniforms have been cut off them to dress their wounds.” [The Blog of War: Front-Line Dispatches from Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan]
That’s where the “Blankets of Hope” comes in. While Soldiers’ Angels has many areas for individuals and groups to volunteer, Stemniski chose the Blankets portion of the project because of her lifelong love of sewing. (Swampscott people might well be familiar with her works because of her quilt donations to St. John’s Church.)
Blankets of Hope, each rolled up and placed in a plastic bag along with a tag placed by the maker, are then put in backpacks for wounded troops arriving at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
“The wounded are stabilized on the battlefield and flown to Germany,” Stemniski says. “Often, they arrive with none of their personal possession, which may take months to catch up with them. In the interim, they get our Soldiers’ Angels backpacks in the hospital.”
The backpacks contain not only blankets and quilts, but a toothbrush, underwear (gender-appropriate, Stemniski laughs), and sweatshirts and sweatpants, all not necessarily in stock at the hospital from Army issue.
Stories produced from the effort are heart-warming.
“A woman from Westfield, Ind., wrote me. Her husband had been injured and then sent back to Iraq, but she wrote and said she and her husband, who had received a backpack, decided to continue the act of kindness. They gave it to a struggling local family with five children.” [Boots on the Ground: Stories of American Soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan]
The newest effort of Soldiers’ Angels is to get volunteers to send holiday cards to the military and medical staff at the hospital in Landstuhl.
“Sometimes, in our efforts to encourage the troops, we forget the civilian staff supporting them,” Stemniski says.
Money doesn’t hurt either and Stemniski points with pride to Marshall University in West Virginia, where students voted to send all proceeds of “Greek Week” this fall to Soldiers’ Angels.
Stemniski herself sent 24 Blankets of Hope this summer, each of them different – she says the dollar table at Wal-Mart is a great place to buy both crib-size blanket batting and fabric to cover it with – and will send many more this month.
Sewing runs in the family, she adds. Her mother was still sewing full-size quilts when she was 90 years old.
“My family always made clothing for all the children. I learned embroidery at age 4, doing Mickey Mouse, and my family taught all the girls how to sew. I think they figured that it was how they kept the girls out of trouble.”
What can other people do to support the troops, regardless of their views of the war? Stemniski says anyone can find something to do through Soldiers’ Angels (soldiersangels.org) if they just look.
“You can write letters, make things, get others involved. All it takes is some of your time,” she says. “And the rewards are great. The mother of one man, moved from Germany to an Air Force hospital in Texas, said the only thing her son took with him from place to place was his Blanket of Hope.”