Master sergeant continues wife's dream

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Trevor Rhynes
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
"She was my best friend for 27 years," said Master Sgt. Lee "Pepper" Spaulding, of the 24th Intelligence Squadron, 693rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group. "Jenny made me a better man. This is what she would have wanted done, so this is why I'm doing it."

It started in 2004 while Spaulding was deployed to Southwest Asia. His wife, Jenny, started making simple stockings to send in place of care packages.

"I was deployed with approximately 50 people and Jenny sent more than 100 stockings," he said. "Our job was to give them out to the people around us."

After Spaulding came back from deployment, his wife decided to expand their project. With help from members of his unit, the Spauldings were able to fund "Jennywings Holiday Stockings."

"We made enough for Airmen deployed from our unit and decided to send some to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Va.," he said.

For the Spauldings, reaching a fraction of service members was not enough. They were ready to spread their holiday cheer across the world.

"My wife wanted to come here to do the stockings," Spaulding said of Ramstein Air Base. "This is where all of the wounded come through, and she wanted to support as many of them as possible."

However, Jenny wasn't able to see her goal accomplished. In April 2009, she lost her battle with bone cancer.

"Six months after she passed away, I got orders to come here," Spaulding said. "Coming here was truly a unique opportunity that I had to take."

Spaulding took to the sewing machine and continued his wife's dream.

"A big reason I continue doing this is because it's how I work out my grief," he said. "Continuing this project is what she would have wanted me to do."

Spaulding began working on the stockings as soon as he was settled here. With the help of a long-time friend, he was able to expand the project.

"I have volunteered for what feels like my entire life and this is one of the most rewarding for me," said Linda Towne, a supervisor at the Ramstein Base Exchange. "Being able to support our service members, injured and deployed, really does mean a lot to me."

As far as production of the stockings goes, there has been a lot of improvement.

"Last year we did about 200 stockings, which included our group, a unit in Hawaii, the wounded warrior Christmas party put together by the United Service Organizations, and the Combat Aeromedical Staging Facility," Spaulding said.

With more than 500 stockings already made this year, Spaulding and his partner sought the help of Ramstein AB Airmen and family members.

"This year we have invited the community to help," Towne said. "We work long hours, have doubled last year's stockings and added downrange hospitals. Next year, given the willingness of volunteers, we hope to double this year's numbers as well."

The difference between a conventional care package and these stockings is simple -- the look.

"These are easy," Spaulding said. "When you walk into some places and there is a big box of care packages, it could look intimidating. We made the stockings small, giving us the option to tailor them to the person receiving it."

Once all the stockings are made, they are sent out to a variety of agencies and locations. Jennywings Holiday Stockings works with Soldiers Angels, the USO, a hospital located at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, as well as deployed service members downrange.

For Senior Airman Steve Johnson, also with the 24th IS, receiving a stocking broke up the everyday routine that comes with being deployed.

"I received a Jennywings stocking last Christmas while in Iraq," Johnson said. "When I received it, it momentarily stopped time and put me in the holiday spirit. Small things like this remind us that there are people back home who are thinking about us."

Providing service members with a morale boost during the holiday season is something that Spaulding hopes to continue for a long time.

"I plan on doing this for years, eventually retiring here for a while," Spaulding said. "But while I'm here, I'm going to be doing this."