Operation 'Woobie' is comforter for local villages

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Rachelle Elsea
  • 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
 In an effort to give back, increase community relations and recycle, deployed service members from across the area of responsibility have melded together to make a strictly volunteer mission, Operation "Woobie," a success.

"'Woobie' is an old-fashioned military term used for blankets or items of comfort," said Army Maj. Bryan Friberg, the officer in charge of Senior Mission Coordinator Cell, 651st Regional Support Group (Task Force Deployment/Re-Deployment Operations). "The operation's mission is to move unused and forgotten blankets and pillows to where they can be used by children and families impacted by the war zone and make a positive improvement in their lives."

It all started in May with an idea from Friberg's son-in-law, Airman 1st Class Brett Christensen, who was deployed in the AOR, along with a group of his fellow security forces members.

"They noticed that of the two villages near the base, one was consistently attacking them and the other was not," Friberg said. "They began to brainstorm ways to build a better relationship with the community that was attacking them. One idea was humanitarian aid in the form of blankets, etc. Brett sent a message out to everyone: his relatives, friends, folks back in Colorado and Oklahoma, asking for blankets."

Coincidentally, the major had recently paid a visit to the transient billeting facility and discovered a 20-foot-shipping container overflowing with blankets. A contractor acquired the blankets from service members who had either left them behind or lost them.

"They were sent through the laundry and stored," Friberg said. "When the company's contract ended, we were given the 20-foot connex full of blankets, pillows and comforters."

Unwilling to dispose of good blankets that had been collecting for years, the major put two-and-two together, attained permission, recruited help and started shipping.

"Lisa Freeman from Gateway Transient Billeting turned over the unused blanket container to me for this humanitarian mission," Friberg said. "1st Lt. Jennifer Palko and her replacement Capt. Christian Castro, from the 386th Logistics Readiness Squadron, worked through the issues of no-cost transportation and helped load the shipments on the aircraft. They also socialized the idea with all levels of Air Force leadership to make sure everyone was informed and had blessed off on the mission."

The group put a lot of time into ensuring the operation would not have a negative effect on the overall mission.

"The blankets are light and the shipments are small; they fit easily on the aircraft," Friberg said. "Captain Castro helps us with the timing and we are able to send when there isn't much baggage and the shipment can be sent as opportunity cargo."

The major also had help from Army Staff Sgt. Franklin Holloway. The duo became the main movers and shakers and they began coordinating missions, getting people involved and printing labels.

The group also has been assisted by several chaplain leaders.

Since March 2011, seven containers of blankets and pillows have been sent to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, and the Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan.

"Shipments go as we have time, and depend on the mission and flight schedule," Friberg said. "We have sent a total of 600 blankets so far."

Friberg said the mission has been a huge success.

"Brett and his group passed out blankets at the gates, at the local hospital and outside the wire in the village," Friberg said. "Also, blankets were turned over to the local sheiks, so that they could hand out the blankets themselves."

The operation also has provided a number of other benefits.

"The mission is important because the communities around our military bases lack basic human necessities like blankets and pillows," Friberg said. "Hospitals need the items as well, and local villagers can use them for their children to stay warm. Conditions in Manas and Bagram are very bleak and cold, and there is quite a bit of suffering."

Shipments of blankets also create good feelings between the local village and the nearby military base, he said. In several cases we were able to turn the entire shipment over to the local village leaders. This allowed them to provide for their villages themselves and maintain their status and pride.

"Lastly, the best recycle efforts involve re-using items whenever possible," Friberg said. "Re-using these blankets and pillows frees up storage space, saves energy and prevents pollution and over-use of landfills."

The latest shipment was given to a children's cancer hospital and an orphanage outside the Transit Center at Manas.

"We hope to continue the program until all of the blankets are out of the connex and in use," Friberg said. "We will then turn the empty connex in and end the program. Until that time, we hope to continue pushing blankets and pillows up to where they will be needed the most."