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Operation Patriotic Fever hits Oak Harbor

Stephanie Greene and her daughter Mirayah pick out a pin to hold a photo of her husband on deployment, Petty Officer 2nd Class William Greene.  “Hearts and Stars” project organizers Andrew, Jonathan and Adrianna Royal help cut and paste Greene’s photo onto the patriotic pin.  Several familes have pitched in to create the pins, which they are giving away in front of Wal-Mart. - Marcie Miller
Stephanie Greene and her daughter Mirayah pick out a pin to hold a photo of her husband on deployment, Petty Officer 2nd Class William Greene. “Hearts and Stars” project organizers Andrew, Jonathan and Adrianna Royal help cut and paste Greene’s photo onto the patriotic pin. Several familes have pitched in to create the pins, which they are giving away in front of Wal-Mart.
— image credit: Marcie Miller

While U.S. and British troops methodically closed in on Baghdad last week, support in Oak Harbor for the troops sprung spontaneously from a heartfelt desire to do something, anything, to help.

The yellow ribbons tied on seemingly every tree and signpost in town, including a huge one on the “old oak tree” at the post office, are the most visible show of support, but people are also showing they care in other ways.

Kids are giving away photo pins, a military mom started a ribbon message project, and the chamber and city have several projects under way.

A group of students from Home Connections, a district homeschool program, has set up a table at Wal-Mart to give away heart and star-shaped cloth pins with a patriotic print, and are helping people paste a small photo of their deployed loved ones in the center.

Dena Royal said three of her children, Adrianna, Jonathan and Andrew, wanted to make the photo pins as a community service project. With big brother Daniel somewhere in Kuwait, the project was a natural fit.

Also involved in the pin-making project are mothers Kelly Hall, Shannon Ross and their children.

Royal got the idea after wearing a dime-sized photo of her son over her heart for more than a week, and getting a lot of positive feedback.

“The hearts and stars are symbols of caring and honor for those who serve our country,” she said.

She has also received e-mail from her son saying how much it helps to know those at home support them.

“Moral support is as important as logistical support, if not more so,” he wrote.

Royal didn’t feel the pins were a political statement.

“It takes it out of the political realm,” she said. “It puts a human face on it.”

If people don’t know someone on deployment, the group has extra photos of service men and women for “adoption.”

Cheryl Torres lives in Coupeville, and said she was glad to see the project. She has a son in Kuwait, but said visible troop support in Coupeville is slim.

“It’s refreshing to come to Oak Harbor,” she said.

She said she would come back Thursday with a picture of her son for the kids to glue onto a pin.

“I want everyone praying for David and for the troops,” she said.

Many people going into the store seemed to avoid the table, since kids and card tables usually mean they are selling something. Once people realized the kids were giving away the pins, almost everyone who stopped wanted one, or offered their support.

The Royal family bought the first round of supplies, and won’t take any money for the pins. One woman went by the table on her into the store, but on her way out gave them a bag of stars and stripes material and pin making supplies. They have made 500 pins so far, and hope to make and give away 1,000.

A very pregnant Stephanie Greene saw the project, went home and got a picture of her husband, Petty Officer 2nd Class William Greene, who has been gone since October.

Greene’s due date is April 26.

“I hope he’s home by then,” she said.

Greene said she appreciates the support the community has shown, from the ribbons to the rallies.

“It keeps up my morale as well,” she said.

Mirayah Greene, 4, said she misses her dad. She and her mom picked out stars, and the Royal children made photocopies, at no charge, and helped glue the photos on the pins. Mirayah and her mother left with their star pins proudly displayed.

Shannon Ross has five pin-making children on board; Kristen, 11, Nathan, 10, Brianne, 8, Daniel, 7, and Renee, 5.

The Rosses made the large sign that hangs in front of the table, and the Halls made a heart-shaped wreath out of plastic yellow ribbon to help attract attention.

Shannon Ross said she does not have a family member on deployment, but that doesn’t matter.

“We want the troops to know we’re behind them 100 percent even if we’re not related,” she said. “We are proud Americans and grateful for our freedom.”

Ross said one woman made nine photo pins to distribute, and told her child, “Now you can wear Daddy over your heart every day.”

Kelly Hall said her daughters Megan, 14 and Lindsey, 11 wanted to do something positive, after seeing the antiwar protesters.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing to do something positive,” she said.

With next week being spring break, the group hopes to work longer hours at their post in front of Wal-Mart.

Mom starts “Ribbons of Support”

Christine Wegner, Navy veteran and mother of a soldier, felt she had to do something to show support for the troops, and her son Michael, a 2000 graduate of Oak Harbor High School who is stationed in Kuwait.

Wegner started “Ribbons of Support” at Skagit Valley College’s Oak Harbor campus, with yellow ribbons donated by the Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, and red, white and blue ribbons from Fleet and Family Support Services. She set up a table in the main lobby and asked people to write a message on a ribbon, and then tie it on the railing outside Oak Hall.

Wegner also said the message of the ribbons was apolitical.

“This doesn’t have anything to do with the war,” she said. “It’s about the people over there we care about.”

The ribbons will be sent to her son, for him to distribute among the troops. She pictures her son and others holding the ribbons, or flying them from their vehicles.

“It’s something tangible that says someone here cares. I think that’s important to them,” she said.

Wegner said her heart stopped when she heard news reports early in the war of a group of Army mechanics who were captured after taking a wrong turn in the desert. She feared her son, also a mechanic, might be among them.

“I was on pins and needles,” she said. “I just prayed, if it was him, let him be alive and do the right thing.”

Her son was not one of the group, but still, a mother worries.

“The only thing that scares me bad bad is just him being there,” she said.

By Friday the long railing was festooned with ribbons fluttering in the breeze, each bearing messages for the troops.

Amy Chisholm filled out a ribbon for her husband Gregory, deployed on the USS Abraham Lincoln.

“Our thoughts are with you — to all on the Lincoln,” she wrote.

Her son Shawn tied the ribbon on the railing, where people driving to the Seaplane Base could see it.

Other ribbons read: “We love you guys! Keep your eyes on heaven! Stay Safe!,” “We support you! Kick some ass!,” “I love you brother. I will be with you spiritually. Come home soon.”

Chamber does “Operation Keeping the Spirit”

The Chamber of Commerce has been busy distributing yellow ribbons to businesses, and making yellow ribbon lapel pins. They also have “Support the Troops” bumper stickers supplied by the Navy League.

Executive Director Priscilla Heistad said the chamber has tied yellow ribbons along Highway 20 through town, but has left the rest of the ribbon tying to the Navy wives group. Many of the other ribbons around town just started showing up, she said.

To give families with someone on deployment a break, the chamber, in conjunction with the Navy League and Oak Harbor School District, is hosting “Silly Sundays and Clown Extravaganza” April 12.

The event will be held at the high school’s Parker Hall from 4 to 6 p.m., and will feature ice cream sunday making and a clown show.

Krista Blackburn, economic development director, said city workers are in the process of constructing a “Hometown Heroes” wall in the lobby of city hall. It will be a place where people can bring photos of their deployed loved ones, and leave notes to share with others.

Blackburn said the city will have an unveiling when construction is complete.

As for the jumbo yellow ribbon around the post office Garry oak tree, it was placed by the VAQ-139 spouses’ support group, which has also tied many of the ribbons around town. The VAQ-139 Prowler squadron has been onboard the U.S.S. Lincoln for nearly nine months.

“We’ll just continue until we get all of Oak Harbor,” Dawn McElroy, squadron ombudsman, said of the yellow ribbon operation.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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