Less than two months after Terra Stewart got married on July 3, her husband deployed to Egypt. He joined Task Force Sinai, the U.S. Army's contribution to the international peacekeeping force that oversees the terms of a 1979 treaty signed between Egypt and Israel. Travis Stewart, a chief warrant officer with 21 years of service, has been there since late August, stationed at South Camp Sinai and flying Blackhawk helicopters.
"I'm a first-deployment wife, so I've never been through anything like this," Terra said. "So instead of sitting at home and moping, I came up with the idea of sending Christmas stockings to our troops in Egypt." Husband Travis did a head count and came up with 700 soldiers in the task force — elements of the 1st Support Battalion and the 175th Infantry Regiment. From there, the Stockings for Sinai project was born.
For the project, Terra needed to get 700 stockings, fill them with Christmas goodies, pack them up and ship them to Egypt. Although highly motivated, Terra couldn't get it done by herself, so she paid a visit to Kenny Whitmer, a Marine Corps veteran and commander of American Legion Post 28 in Triangle, Va.
"Terra came to me and said she had this Stockings for Sinai project, and wanted to know if she could put it together here at the post," Whitmer said. "And I said, ‘Absolutely. Anything to support the troops.' She took that project and ran with it, and she's done a terrific job. When she asked people for help, they stepped up to the plate. We've had this whole hall full of people. They came out to support her, and to support the troops."
A volunteer force formed that included Terra's parents and her family, members of Post 28 and its American Legion Auxiliary unit, and the Auxiliary unit for Post 364 in Woodbridge, Va. And in three days, Terra had raised enough money from Legionnaires, the community and other contributors to buy the Christmas stockings. Then she spent many late-night hours writing emails and letters to companies and individuals — including Ford Motor Company and country music artist Toby Keith — asking for support. Two months later, at the end of October, she had raised more than $5,000 in cash and merchandise donations.
It was enough to fill 700 stockings with all kinds of treats, such as granola bars, beef jerky, candy, cookies, decks of cards and bags of peanuts, and ship them to Egypt. The facility manager at Post 28, Sue Cordner, baked more than 4,000 chocolate chip cookies for the troops of Task Force Sinai. Each stocking also contained a letter of greeting from Post 28.
On Nov. 2, Terra and her volunteers filled the last of the stockings, and all 700 arrived at South and North Camp Sinai later that month. "We've all worked so hard on this. We've gotten so much help from local companies and community members, and Post 28 has been a huge supporter," Terra said.
Terra said the soldiers in Egypt were "very appreciative" when they got their Christmas stockings. "Many of their thank-you cards and letters are still coming in."
George Lussier, who has served as adjutant and commander of Post 28, said that when Terra brought up the Stockings for Sinai project to him, "I told her to go for it, and tell the (post) commander about it. And she just jumped into it without hesitation." Lussier said Post 28 has a lot of events throughout the year and Terra "is involved with everything. She's already talking about doing this project every year."
That may be. But for now, Terra has other more immediate plans. "People ask me, ‘What is your next project?' And I say, ‘I'm going to sleep for a few days.' It's been such a rewarding experience, but also very tiring. The community, family, friends, other organizations, we've all worked hard. And to see it all come together, and to know it's been completed, I just took a step back one day to take it all in, and I had tear-filled eyes."
Travis Stewart and 699 fellow soldiers got a piece of Christmas in the desert this year, thanks to his wife's truly great idea.