December 23, 2011 9:19:00 PM
Nerissa Young -
Their soldiers have been gone barely a month, but the family members of the Mississippi National Guard's 223rd Engineer Battalion are reaching out with Cheetos, chewing gum and ChapStick.
The West Point-based unit is in Kandahar, Afghanistan. While soldiers can enjoy KFC and TGI Friday's at the large American base, some other comforts of home aren't as easily available.
That's where Shanna McTaggart and other members of the unit's Family Readiness Group come in. McTaggart is chairwoman of the group that includes spouses, siblings, parents and children of the men and women serving overseas.
"Every solider has a contact back home," McTaggart said. One of the soldiers has no family, but one of the FRG members stands in.
The group began meeting in January, she said. Since the unit was deployed in October, the group meets monthly at the West Point armory, which is also headquarters to units based in Houston and Aberdeen. One of the projects is gathering items the soldiers say they need and cannot find at the base because the post exchange does not carry them -- or at least the American versions that soldiers are most familiar with.
When soldiers have down time, getting to the mess tent on the huge base can be difficult, McTaggart said. If a soldier has 45 minutes for lunch and it's a 15-minute trip to the mess tent, the soldier will likely skip lunch.
Some have microwave ovens in their quarters, so quick foods help them stay fed. "That makes a big difference in their day," she said.
Sgt. James Henley works in the West Point armory. He served a tour of duty in Iraq in 2003. Packages from home are always welcome, he said.
"Any time the mail comes and a soldier gets mail, it makes your day." Henley said. Anything from anyone means a lot, especially for soldiers who don't have families.
Cans of Beanie Weenee were a favorite during his tour because it is a grab-and-go food, he said. And soldiers sometimes get tired of the Meals Ready to Eat.
McTaggart noted the snack list is longer than the personal items list.
Her husband, Sgt. Dustin McTaggart, is in the 223rd. Although the Guard is supposed to be a part-time job, she said it is her husband's passion.
She and the Family Readiness Group invite the public to join them in sending items to the troops. Help with postage is appreciated, too, she said. Contact McTaggert at 662-397-2076.
"We've had enormous help from the West Point community," she said. Churches, schools and individuals have stepped forward to offer whatever is needed.
The next shipment will go out at the end of January.
How to help
For more information, call Shanna McTaggart at 662-397-2076.