Community provides clean laundry for Airmen in Haiti

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Joe McFadden
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
As Airmen from the 1st Special Operations Wing deployed to Haiti after the Jan. 12 earthquake, many of their families at Hurlburt Field wanted to show their support and contribute to their morale and well-being.

With their loved ones operating in temperatures of more than 90 degrees and no running water for days at a time, the Hurlburt Field Airman & Family Readiness Center organized a volunteer laundry drive for those Airmen Jan. 20.

Volunteers washed the clothes at home before returning them to be loaded with supplies on a Haiti-bound C-130 later that night.

"We know how nice it is to put on clean clothes, and they can never take enough clothes with them," said Karen Elton, wife of Col. Buck Elton, 1st Special Operations Group commander.

While deployed to Haiti, Col. Mark Johnson, 1st Special Operations Mission Support Group commander, heard of the community's desire to help and saw the Airmen's need for clean clothes.

"Many Airmen have been there for more than a week," he said. "They're tired, hot and sweaty, and they only brought a 30-day bag with them."

When he first approached Airmen about the idea, Colonel Johnson said many were hesitant about sending their dirty clothes back home to be washed by people they may not know.

"I told them not to worry about it," he said. "The volunteers were energized just to do it for them."

Colonel Johnson worked with the A&FRC to organize the logistics of sending the laundry back to Hurlburt Field. During the first loading, he described a situation where a pallet carrying the clothes got stuck moments before the C-130 was supposed to take off. Rather than wait for the forklift, a dozen Airmen lifted and carried the cargo to the aircraft so it could make the flight.

"Their spirits were high, and it was such a morale boost," he said.

As the clothes headed back home, A&FRC organizers sent an e-mail to their list detailing the drive. Within the first hour, they received nearly 100 responses from people willing to wash the clothes.

"The response was overwhelming," said Debby Lundblad, A&FRC chief. "Everyone wanted to be involved and help out any way they could."

A truck delivered the first load to the A&FRC, and organizers distributed the bags to volunteers with complimentary detergent and cleaning gloves. Despite the awkward prospect of handling another person's used laundry, scores of volunteers lined up to take the bags home.

"We have husbands and children and handle their laundry, too," Mrs. Elton said. "This was a great way for us to help out."

Knowing their clothes would be washed by people volunteering their time and resources, some Airmen attached thank you notes to their laundry bags.

Sarah Iddins, wife of Brig. Gen. Bart Iddins, Air Force Special Operations Command surgeon general, said she was glad just to help Airmen while they're deployed.

"They did a wonderful job organizing this event and taking care of their people," she said.

The drive ran out of laundry shortly after the first batch was unloaded, but organizers said they plan on offering more laundry drives as long as they are needed.

"It's a tribute to the volunteers of this community. We're all one family, and we come together when needed," Colonel Johnson said.