To understand the importance of receiving a touch of home for a deployed soldier maybe we have to understand what brings that soldier to a far-off land.
To put body in harm’s way, to lose friends and loved ones on the battlefield and beyond.
To volunteer to put life on line, to stand and be counted when the job is literally life and death and the benefits less than ideal.
Laura Williams resides at that particular nexus.
An Army veteran with two tours in Afghanistan physically behind her, and yet, she will say, not so much mentally and emotionally.
Also sister to a Marine with deployments in Afghanistan, preparing to reenlist as well as the wife of another soldier who will, after surviving one IED attack with injuries considered “minor” only in the military, will also soon redeploy.
The daughter of a Semper Fi Sister who against the most mortal of obstacles willed herself to last year’s Beach Blast, an event she missed three years running due to the deployment of her children and was not going to miss another, even in the face of grave illness.
Why do young men and women volunteer to face death?
“It is just one of those weird situations,” Williams said. “We don’t hate the enemy. We don’t hate what is in front of us; we just love what is behind us.”
And with that, Williams, a resident of Freeport, took a moment to collect her emotions; to reclaim her voice, to fight off the tears.
That love of what is behind is behind the love that is packed together each year by the Semper Fi Sisters – wives, daughters, sisters, grandmothers and aunts of deployed military personnel – during their Packing Party for Boxes of Love.
The ultimate event in the ultimate getaway for loved ones of those on the fields of battle will take place Oct. 19 at the Centennial Building.
The Sisters turn the building into a factory of love, parceling items from home, in variety that would make Target envious, into boxes to be sent to the deployed soldiers for whom those boxes mean so much.
“It means a lot,” Williams said. “It’s a taste of home. It is a reminder that people remember why we are there and that we are there.
“In particular the Army which can be a refuge for many. They come from tough backgrounds or they have no family. To have something come from home, from somebody they don’t even know, that will make their week.”
There is also a bottom-line admiration and gratitude from members of the military.
“In the military the pay isn’t what maybe it should be,” Williams said with tactfulness beyond her years. “When you take into account what all goes into those boxes and you know the funding that goes into those care packages and that people are willing to use their own hard-earned money; that is pretty humbling.”
Now a “full-time vet” pursuing schooling for a criminology degree, Williams is among those pouring her own, her friends’ and strangers now strangers no more resources into the Boxes of Love.
“My mom raised us right,” Williams said and we’ll return to mom, Samantha Cochrane, shortly. “She taught us if we have everything we need we don’t have to be frugal about helping others without as much, who were not as fortunate.
“With all the selfish things going on in Washington, watching money being spent in ways it should not be, there is still hope. That is what this is about, hope. People caring for other people.”
As a volunteer for the Walton County Sheriff’s Office Auxiliary Posse, Williams established a couple of campaigns for goods and dollars within the Posse.
Her captain found out, wondered about expanding it department-wide, got the sheriff to sign off and before long Williams’ efforts garnered attention in local weekly and daily newspapers.
She received emails from officers at the Walton County Correctional Facility with questions from inmates wondering what they might be able to do.
This past weekend she set up a donation table in front of a local WalMart and collected nearly $300 worth of items.
One man asked, since he didn’t have goods to donate, would money be alright? Yes. He passed over $50.
“You hear a lot of people say they support the military, but when it comes to action they aren’t so positive,” Williams. “I’ve met a lot of people who follow their words with action.”
As the contact for her local campaigns, Williams has also received her share of calls that, she said, just took her aback.
One woman called about her son, a 14-year-old. He was concerned about members of the military having sufficient modes of entertainment in far off lands.
Could he donate his Xbox and games?
“My goal is to get everything collected and back home and know that I will have to go into my pocket for a U-Haul trailer,” Williams said with a chuckle.
A couple of Posse members without the financial means to donate want to donate time to help load it all up.
The fifth of the Beach Blasts, the fifth of the Packing Parties are imbued with particular importance, and particularly bittersweet emotions for Williams.
By her estimation, she and her husband have lost four or five dear friends in battle during the past year.
“It takes its toll,” Williams said. “It is not something you can walk away from. Even though you get out you never get out, if you know what I mean. You still have friends who are deployed. You have loved ones that will deploy. In a way, I am still deployed.”
In addition, her aforementioned mother spent her final days at last year’s Beach Blast.
Determined to attend after missing the first three, Cochrane had been ill – dealing in part with lupus and its wide spectrum of symptoms – but had only told her deployed children she had seen the doctor a few times.
Not a word to worry the kids.
But three days into last year’s Beach Blast Cochrane suffered a massive heart attack and passed away.
“When something like that happens you reflect on your own life and about getting things done because there might not be a tomorrow,” Williams said. “Some people regret things they didn’t do. Going to the Beach Blast was something she was going to do, not regret. She was going to have a list of things like that.”
In Cochrane’s honor, this year’s, and future year’s, Boxes of Love Packing Party will be dedicated to Cochrane.
Williams cashed in some flier miles banked while in the military to ensure her mother’s two best friends among the Sisters attend the special Blast and Packing Party.
“I am honored and I thank God mom could impact somebody so much,” Williams said, adding that many of us fear death not so much for what is on the other side, but because, “We don’t want to be forgotten. For my mom, that will never happen.
“This has been an emotional roller coaster. One minute I will be smiling and laughing and the next thing something will get me off guard. It has been more of an anxious wanting to go. It was a group my mom relied heavily on and a group she really believed in.”