Burt Sappenfield grabbed a pair of eight-hour hand warmers Wednesday and tossed the heat-producing packets to a group of Fort Gordon soldiers for them to stash into the shirt pockets of their uniforms.
Wednesday’s handoff was a sign of celebration at the CSRA Home Connections’ monthly networking breakfast in Evans.
This winter, thanks to Operation Hand Warmer, an annual military supply drive organized by the alliance program, the fingers, toes and stomachs of more than 23,000 soldiers worldwide will be protected from frostbite and starvation.
“This is a tremendous help,” said Capt. Edwin Seda, of the 551st Signal Battalion.
Seda and a group of soldiers from Fort Gordon joined dozens of volunteers from Century 21 Larry Miller Realty and CSRA Home Connections to pack boxes and sign 300 Christmas cards written by children from public, private and home schools in Georgia and South Carolina for troops overseas.
Seda said hand warmers, light snacks and personalized messages are essential items during deployments to the Middle East.
In 2010, his battalion had to spend three to four days at a time in a 20-foot meal van atop an Afghanistan mountainside before their truck was resupplied with food. The hand warmers and nonperishable snacks helped them survive, he said.
“These donations mean the world to our soldiers,” Seda said. “It can get extremely cold when you are waiting in a metal box in a remote location and desolate environment for an extended period of time.”
Sappenfield, who founded the project in January 2012 with Century 21 Larry Miller Realty, said that so far, the operation’s second year has netted 9,800 hand warmers and 13,600 snack items.
In its first year, more than 30,000 supplies went to American troops, specifically those who faced subzero temperatures while flying unheated helicopters at 10,000 feet, including the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment at Hunter Air Field in Savannah, Ga.
“Temperatures in the back of some of our aircrafts get down to minus 20 degrees,” Army Maj. Jack Tilley wrote on behalf of the regiment in a thank-you letter to Sappenfield and his wife, Becky, who helped organize the drive. “The support you have willingly provided makes the world of difference to our crew members that execute our nation’s business on a nightly basis..”
The Sappenfields said they have gotten numerous phone calls from colonels who represent military units worldwide requesting supplies.
On Monday, the couple made a trip to Savannah, the operation’s distribution point. When they arrived, troops swarmed their truck, stuffing their shirt pockets and canvas backpacks with portable provisions.
“When they need a quick meal, something to go, they have it right there,” Sappenfield said. “It does hit home for them.”
Because of the drawdown of 80,000 U.S. troops by 2017, the Sappenfields said, they routinely get asked whether the military needs such items. In response, Burt said, he points to last Saturday, when U.S. Special Forces attacked Islamic extremists who carried out terrorist attacks at a mall in East Africa, capturing a Libyan al-Qaida leader who had a $5 million price on his head for bombings of American embassies.
“We’re in a war; it’s just a different kind of war,” Sappenfield said. “We have to catch these groups before they establish connections and networks and spread to the U.S.”
Sappenfield said he hopes Operation Hand Warmer continues to grow for years to come.
“It’s the service these troops provide that allows us to have the freedom we enjoy every day,” he said. “They are so critical and I thank them.”