By Tech. Sgt. Stacia Zachary
U.S. Air Forces Central combat correspondent
5/30/2011 – CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan (AFNS) — Service members categorized as critical care aeromedical transport team patients are all leaving the contingency aeromedical staging facility with a very special package: a handmade quilt stitched with love.
Shortly after the January arrival of the current CASF team, quilts began arriving at the clinic. Wanting to provide something special for the wounded warriors and hoping to provide a touch of home, Jill Shaver, from Murfreesboro, Tenn., began fashioning homemade quilts.
“We’ve found that there are so many people who just want to help but don’t know how,” said Lt. Col. Barbara Persons, the 451st Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron Detachment 1 CASF commander. “These quilts are a testament to how much people care.”
Straight from a supportive American’s hands into the service member’s lap, these handmade quilts take weeks of painstaking care to create.
“They usually come every four to six weeks and we’ll get two or three of them at a time,” the colonel said. “So much time and effort has been put into each and every quilt. You can just feel the love when you hold them.”
The arrival of the first quilts came just prior to a CCATT patient’s need for transportation.
“I remember when we first got these quilts,” the colonel said. “Almost instantly we received word that a CCATT patient needed to be moved and it just seemed right that a quilt would cover him during transport.”
The delivery of quilts became a harbinger to a wounded warrior’s arrival.
“Within days we would have a person to give a quilt to,” the colonel said. “What a heaven sent (gift) it’s been to be able to provide them with something that’s been made with such care and love.”
The quilts are part of a volunteer program where people from the United States send items to the CASF for service members in hopes of making their stay a little bit easier.
“Everyone is so generous,” said Capt. Zoe Woolston, a 451st EAES Det. 1 CASF clinical nurse. “A lot of what we have here has come from people who just want to help in some way.”
The CASF staff receives regular shipments of care packages for the troops, so many that an Airman was needed to manage the program.
Senior Airman Christine Holmes volunteered to take over the program and immediately set to work organizing the items they had on hand and made an inventory of the items that service members might have need of.
“Many times, when a Marine comes in, they don’t have anything, clothes, shoes, you name it,” Colonel Persons said. “So, when people ask what we need, we’re able to tell them because Airman Holmes has really done a great job identifying what we have on hand and what we need.”
With all the care packages that come in, Airman Holmes has taken special care with the quilts. As the quilts come in, she ensures they are individually wrapped. Each bag is marked with a tag and stored in a box marked “CCATT Only.”
“When the quilts arrive, I make sure I unpack them right away and put a blank anti-hijack tag on them and pack them away,” said Airman Holmes, a medical technician deployed from the 95th Medical Group at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. “When we get notified that a CCATT (patient) is ready to be moved, I start filling out the tag with his information to make sure it goes with him.”
The handmade quilts are adorned with an embroidered Purple Heart medal at the center. The quilts all have decorative stitching sealing the quilts together. The stitching depicts an American bald eagle, stars and hearts. Most of them are in a red, white and blue color scheme but there is one quilt that stands apart from the rest. Mrs. Shaver made a purple one in case an injured female service member comes through the CASF.
“This one’s got purple in it for a woman,” Colonel Persons said. “I never like to pull these quilts out but I hope this one stays wrapped up; but if a woman does come through here who’s critical, there’s a very special quilt waiting for her.”
When the service member opens the quilt, he or she also receives a card from the quilter wishing the quick recovery of its new owner.
“The cards that she sends are addressed to the (service members) and sometimes after the patients have recovered, they contact her,” Colonel Persons said. “Jill always wonders when she’s making a quilt about who it’ll go to. So, if a patient contacts her, it gives a her sense of closure in a way.”
The quilts are signs to the wounded that they haven’t been forgotten and people back home are thinking of them.
“It’s good that we can send these quilts home with our critical patients because it shows them that there’s a lot of support for what they’re doing,” Airman Holmes said. “As they recover, it’s something they can have to remind them they’re not alone and they’re not forgotten.”
Homemade quilts even adorn the beds in the wards, providing a less sterile environment for the recovering patients.
“It’s got all these comforts of home and it shows that people care about you,” said. Marine Sgt. Todd Cross, an Abrams tank gunner and recovering patient. “It’s a little touch of home.”
The quilts are their own form of medication to the wounded warriors. As long as there is a need, critically wounded warriors will continue to receive tokens from members of a grateful nation.
“There are so many concerned people out there who just want to do something special for our wounded warriors,” Colonel Persons said. “They send us enough that everyone who comes through here will know that the people back home care about their welfare.”