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GI's Mom Starts 'Project Underwear'
Knight Ridder   |  By Amelia A. Pridemore  |  January 03, 2008
Tammi Brown spent this past Christmas without her 21-year-old son Lance -- her only child -- because he was deployed with his National Guard unit in Iraq.

The Fenwick Mountain resident said she and her husband Scott wanted to show their strength and support for their son -- and the estimated 200 other men and women serving with him. They collected items she said will allow the troops to help themselves so they can better help others.

Christmas Eve, Brown and her husband kicked off "Project Underwear," where they sought underwear donations for all members of the Summersville-based 821st Engineering Group of the West Virginia Army National Guard. Lance, a specialist, has served in the Guard since he was 17 years old. This is his first overseas deployment, and he just spent his first Christmas away from his family.

"This was a way to show our support and survive this Christmas without him," Mrs. Brown said.

"We could have just not had Christmas, but that wouldn't be healthy. We wanted to show our strength. That's why we did it."

Families, friends and caring strangers will often send deployed soldiers care packages with food. But Brown says underwear is needed badly and it's a need that's rarely discussed.

Brown said her son and other members of his unit have been deployed at Camp Liberty in Baghdad since Oct. 1. Lance is a mechanic, and he and others will have to venture from the base's safe area, also known as the "green area," to "red areas" for missions lasting as long as two weeks. They must retrieve broken-down equipment, repairing it or hauling it back to the base.

"They never know when they'll be called to go beyond the green area," she said.

While the soldiers are on missions, they will often have to throw away two to three pairs of underwear because there are no facilities to wash clothing, Brown said. The Army does issue underwear, but soldiers must purchase their own after going through their allotted number.

"When you're exhausted from having to work 12 to 15 hours a day, seven days a week, it's a luxury to have extras," she said.

A colonel and family friend once told Lance the first thing he should take care of is personal hygiene, Brown said.

"He said, 'If you can't take care of yourself first, you can't take care of others. It all begins with hygiene.'"

Brown and her husband hosted a small Christmas Eve luncheon at their home, where friends and family members brought enough underwear to fill 40 bags.

"They just couldn't wait to bring something for them," she said of all the donors.

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Brown said her son's deployment could have him in Iraq until December 2008.

"We all grew up overnight the moment he left American soil," she said.

However, Brown said Lance only sounded depressed during one phone conversation, and that was during his first month in Iraq.

"He's become stronger. I believe, at first, it was fear of the unknown," she said. "Now, he tells us everything will be all right, he'll be home soon, and that they're doing the right thing."

One word, Brown said, describes the lives of American soldiers overseas and their families -- sacrifice. She believes most Americans do not realize how much of a sacrifice they all make unless they find themselves in the same situations.

Brown noted her son, even as a teenager, showed strength and devotion to the armed services.

She said she and Scott first refused to allow Lance to join the Guard. His joining the Guard at 17 meant his parents would have to sign the paperwork, too. At 16, Lance wrote his parents a letter -- which his mother still has -- urging them to support him. He said he needed them backing him.

"As parents, we were shocked he made a stand," Mrs. Brown said. "He was living with us, but he wrote out his feelings."

This Christmas, Brown said, Lance sent his parents a card quoting Isaiah 40:31 -- "Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not get tired. They will walk and not become weary."

"I cried," Brown said. "Here he is, consoling me with scripture, and he is 21 years old. He is a 21-year-old veteran. It amazes me."

Lance has mentioned camping with his family on the Cranberry River when he returns, his mother said.

"He just wants to smell the grass -- he misses that," she said. "He would just like to be in the woods, camping and being with his family.

"I wish we would bring home the troops. We just want our son home."

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