Bill and Jane Dickerson are using backpacks and hugs in hopes of impacting war-torn Afghanistan. The couple are sending backpacks filled with school supplies and toys for children in Afghanistan.
Bill and Jane Dickerson are using backpacks and hugs in hopes of impacting war-torn Afghanistan.
The couple are sending backpacks filled with school supplies and toys for children in Afghanistan through the Web site www.taskforcephoenix.com.
“It feels like you’re actually doing something,” Bill said.
The Dickersons are also involved with a family in Elmwood sending care packages filled with toiletries, snacks, neck coolers, sudoku books, old movies and magazines to soldiers overseas. Around 35 boxes a month are sent from Elmwood to soldiers fighting in the Middle East.
The backpacks cost the Dickersons between $15 and $20 and the packages cost between $25 and $30.
“As long as I can afford it I’ll do it,” Jane said. “Because I think that everyone has to try and do something wonderful.”
Their effort began with their son, Mark.
Major Mark Lear, 35, left for Afghanistan in 2006. Jane worried constantly, she said, often fearing the sound of cars driving up her or her neighbor’s driveway.
“I would go hide under the covers, I didn’t want to look out the window,” Jane said through tears. “I was afraid it was some army guy coming to tell me (Mark) was dead.”
But it was Mark’s day in Bangor, Maine, that changed the Dickersons’ lives. Bangor is a refueling station for military planes on their way across the Atlantic Ocean.
There, Mark was greeted by a number of people hugging and thanking the soldiers for their duty in the Middle East. Many were veterans like Bill.
Bill was in the Army Reserves during the Vietnam War and recalled returning veterans from that war received no welcome home. “You were afraid to walk down the streets,” Bill said of the U.S. during the Vietnam War.
“(It was a) whole different era. They didn’t have anybody to really meet them or greet them good luck on the way out.”
He felt compelled to be a military greeter.
The couple decided to take a three-day trip to Bangor to greet soldiers themselves.
“At that point I really needed to hug a digital soldier,” Jane said.
The Dickersons arrived in Bangor after a 36-hour train ride. There they spent the next 72 hours greeting and thanking soldiers.
There they greeted 350 soldiers on their very first flight. Jane had trouble mustering up the courage to thank and say goodbye to the soldiers, who were leaving the U.S. for their tour of duty.
“When we saw them coming down the hallway I started crying,” Jane said. “I turned my eyes so it wouldn’t look like I was crying. I had to be brave for them.”
Jane wore homemade buttons of Mark.
As Jane wiped tears from her eyes she smiled about the last of the seven flights they greeted. Filled with soldiers returning home, volunteers were able to thank the troops for their time spent overseas.
“I was thinking, I’ve got to make some breakfast casseroles,” Jane said when she was welcoming the soldiers.
On their second trip, the Dickersons visited Dallas. This time, however, they took a plane to give them more time greeting. There they met two greeters Jane called “the kissing grannies” who take soldiers around the Dallas area before they leave.
The Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport acts as a transition for soldiers returning home on leave. Soldiers often have over an hour while waiting between flights, giving volunteers an opportunity to sit, eat and talk with the troops.
At one point during their trip to Dallas, the couple met two majors who knew Mark. Jane gave the two soldiers one of her buttons with Mark’s picture.
The Dickersons hope they’re making a difference.
“It’s a great thing to do,” Bill said. “It just gives you goose bumps when you think about it.”
“It really helped when Mark was over there to know we were doing something positive rather than just sitting there twiddling our thumbs,” Jane said.
The couple is hoping to make a third trip to greet soldiers.
“It’s important for people to understand it’s still going on,” Bill said. “There’s still people fighting for our freedom.”