By Jodi Marze, Lifestyles Editor
The Picayune Item
The 857th engineer company, which was recently deployed to Afghanistan, will be spending the holidays away from their families; but soldiers and family members continue to feel love and support from the Picayune community during these trying times of separation.
In addition to care packages sent through local churches and the city of Picayune, 857th Family Readiness Group Chairperson Dynell Debolt said, “Picayune has surprised me on multiple levels. I thought that with it being a small town, we would zap our resources too quickly. However, this is one of the most outstanding communities I have had the blessing of stepping foot into. People are giving and just continue to give.
“My husband is in the 857th deployed to Afghanistan. He reentered the Guard post September 11th after being a Seabee. I am the liaison between the soldiers, families and command. This is a huge honor and responsibility to be part of the chain of command for the family members.”
One of the first large service projects Debolt saw implemented were the care packages collected and shipped by the city of Picayune.
“There were so many (care packages) we had no way of getting them all to the post office. In these tough economic times, we had no way of expecting the community response. When Chief Brown of the Picayune Fire Department heard about our need for transport, he sent men over to handle the loading and transportation to the post office,” she said.
The next project she worked on was the Christmas meal for soldiers who where not deployed due to the need for them to run the armory.
“We had a number of soldiers who did not deploy with the rest of the unit, they stayed behind to keep the unit running and we wanted to give them a holiday dinner. Senator Tony Smith stopped by our table at the Backyard Barbeque event and when he found out our plans for the meal, insisted on catering free of charge. Senator Angela Hill came and just jumped in to help serve the soldiers. It was truly a blessing for the men and women of the armory,” said Debolt.
Senator Hill said, “I was honored to work alongside these ladies who have loved ones in service. It made me count my blessings.”
“What an honor to have the opportunity to serve the families of the 857. Just being at the right place at the right time put us together. Hopefully this blessed the families,” said Senator Smith.
The most recent event was for the families of the 857, held at Resurrection Life Ministries (RLM).
Dawn Bechtel of RLM said, “125 volunteers came together and served between 25 to 27 families for ‘Operation— A Home Front Christmas.’ Approximately 67 children received gifts and took pictures with Santa. The Picayune police and fire departments were on hand, as well as Highland Community Hospital, Picayune Memorial High and Pearl River Central High School students.
“We had booths set up for nail painting, face painting, games and Christmas dinner was also supplied to the families.”
Debolt said, “Dawn Bechtel and I have been talking since August (the troops deployed in July) about the event for Christmas. They adopted the families of the 857 and I can tell you the experience was as close to a Christmas village as you get without going to the North Pole.
“We literally did not have to do a thing. We had attendants waiting on us throughout our meal. This by far surpassed my expectations of anything we had coming to us.”
When asked how deployed loved ones were celebrating the holidays, Debolt said, “Some of the wives sent Christmas trees to their husbands. A church on the coast did a tree drive with boat captains who sent fishing lures and such as ornaments.
“Most importantly, we need to let everyone know their generous donations are making it there and blessing the troops. They have a store room now, where they can go and get toothpaste or other items as needed, thanks to the people of this community.
“It is overwhelming to try and put into words the difference the community has made to us and our loved ones who are serving our country away from home this Christmas,” said Debolt.