Operation Pillowcase softens sting of family separation

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An award-winning program designed to make children feel less anxious is softening the sting while a parent is away from home on military duty.

Operation Pillowcase, developed by the 439th Airlift Wing family support center staff here, provides children of activated reservists with a pillowcase printed with a picture of their deployed parent. The family support center started the program after Sept. 11 created a demand for additional deployments of Air Force Reserve Command people.

The program recently received a $3,000 grant as part of the Newman's Own Awards for Military Community Excellence. The grant will be used to make custom pillowcases for families of deployed servicemembers such as Staff Sgt. James McLaughlin, a reservist with the 439th Maintenance Squadron.

"Family support helps to bridge the distance by helping us keep in contact while he's deployed," said the sergeant's wife, Stacy, after the family received pillowcases for their two children.

More than 400 pillowcases have been mailed to children age 10 and younger since the inception of the project, said Tech. Sgt. Kimberly Babin, a family support technician here.

"It's great to see a concept such at this receive recognition," Babin said. "The money will be spent on a heat-press machine, digital camera, special printer, color ink cartridges, envelopes and postage."

Previously, funding for the program came from activated reservists' monetary donations to the United Services Organization. Besides reservist donations, the Massachusetts' American Legion donated more than 900 white linen pillowcases, 410 iron-on transfers and $100 for postage.

With donations and the grant, pillowcases will go hundreds of children whose parents are deployed.

"We've had numerous cards and letters expressing how grateful the parents are for the pillowcase and how much the project has eased the stress associated with deployment," Babin said. (Courtesy of AFRC News Service)