(photo by Photo Courtesy Smfd)

CITYWIDE — Around Christmas, Dominic Smith began wondering what it would be like to be a soldier in Afghanistan, far from home, family and the comforts of the holidays.

Smith, a firefighter with the Santa Monica Fire Department, was bothered by the fact that the Afghan war had dropped from the headlines, and felt that not enough was being done to support the troops fighting thousands of miles away.

An Internet search revealed an organization, fittingly called “Adopt a US Soldier,” that lets private people select one or more soldiers fighting abroad to whom to send care packages and letters.

Smith presented a formal proposal to the Santa Monica Firefighers Local 1109, the union that represents most of the firefighters in the area, asking permission to formally involve the rest of the membership.

The union gave the green light, but one fighter wasn’t quite enough for the firefighters.

“I asked for a platoon rather than a soldier,” Smith said.

AAUSS obliged.

The Santa Monica firefighters got the 32-member Alpha Company 3rd Battalion 4th Infantry “Warriors,” a part of the Army’s 170th Infantry Brigade deployed to the remote Camp Blackhorse, which is located near Kabul, Afghanistan.

Deployed from their base in Baumholder, Germany, the troops train Afghani forces from their desert outpost. For many, this was a first deployment, and the young men had never been so far from family during the holidays.

The members began raising money. Local 1109 pitched in the first $1,000, and promised to match donations up to an additional $1,000.

With the support of the fire department, which includes the union members as well as other staff including dispatchers, members of administration and some fire inspectors, the entire system dug deep and came up with $3,900 with which to buy gifts.

Then came the fun part.

Using online forums and the expertise of firefighter Nick Angel — a former Marine who served in Iraq — as guidance, the men began deciding how they were going to spend the money.

They got Power Bars, Cliff Bars, nuts, hard candy, peanut butter and anything else that could stand the four to six week trip from the United States to Afghanistan.

Socks were also in high demand, as was lip balm and baby wipes for showers on the go.

Probably the highlight of the take was an XBox 360 and 20 games donated by Activision, Microsoft and Electronic Arts.

Firefighters also included letters to the troops, encouraging them and expressing their support. They even threw in SMFD stickers.

“It would be cool to see one on pictures on the Facebook page,” Smith said. “But if not, it’s OK.”

The 20 boxes it took to mail the items were sent last week, carefully sorted to avoid contamination. It will take another three to five weeks for the supplies to arrive.

So far, the men have received one e-mail from Sgt. First Class Clifford Jones, the commander of the Warriors, thanking them for taking on his men.

The troops are limited in what they can say about their situation, and how often they can access the Internet or other forms of communication.

The firefighters are planning to continue their support of the troops, perhaps with another fundraiser and mailing later in the year, and hope to hear from the men in Afghanistan eventually.

“We plan to continue supporting the group,” Smith said. “Hopefully, they stay connected, but this is so much about them than it is about us.”


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