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Military Families, Victims of Tornados, Receive Donated Computers From Operation Homelink

Sargent Michael MacLeod writes about the efforts of Operation Homelink, a non-profit that provides computers and web cams to the families of deployed soldiers, to provide computer equipment to soldiers stationed at Fort Bragg who were affected by the devasting tornados that hit the region.

Cross-posted from the blog. This originally appeared in Paraglide, the Ft. Bragg base newspaper.

Six paratroopers whose homes were destroyed or damaged in the April 16 tornados that struck south of post recently received donated computers to help get their lives back online.

Given mostly to lower­enlisted Soldiers assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Di­vision, the refurbished, high-quality, business-class notebooks came from Op­eration Homelink, a non­profit outfit that tradition­ally provides computers to the Families of deploying Soldiers to keep in touch through e-mail, chat and web cams.

Operation Homelink

Spc. Patrick Briody, a medic with 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, describes how he freed his neighbors from underneath the wreckage of their house after it was thrown by a tornado against his rented Fayetteville home April 16, 2011. (Photo by Operation Homelink)

Additionally, five laptops were donated to Marines affected by the same storm system at Camp Lejeune, located on the North Car­olina coast. Dan Shannon, founder of Operation Homelink, explained that, while he typically needs 90 days to request and deliver com­puters from corporate do­nors such as Raytheon and Dell, Raytheon responded instantaneously to the emergency request in the aftermath of Fayetteville’s tornadoes.

“As long as the mis­sion is to take care of our troops and their Families, it’s an important mission to Raytheon,” said Robert Connors, director of pre­paredness at the defense contractor in an e-mail to S hannon.

It helped tremendously that the brigade’s noncom­missioned officers support chain, beginning with its top NCO, Command Sgt. Maj. LaMarquis Knowles, was able to quickly find Soldiers with the greatest need, said Shannon.

“This is really going to help,” said Spc. Desmond Marsh, a food-service spe­cialist who, over two weeks after the storm, was still trying to get his life back together.

Marsh left his rented home with his daughter and wife just seven minutes before the tornado struck. He returned to find the house in shambles and his two-year-old daughter’s room completely blown away.

To help him get back on his feet, members of Marsh’s company con­tributed clothing for his Family, and two, on-post facilities, the Airborne At­tic and the Lending Closet, loaned furniture, small ap­pliances and other house­hold goods. Marsh will use the com­puter to organize his life and to help keep in touch with his Family, among other uses, he said.

Specialist Patrick Briody, a medic with his brigade’s cavalry squadron, also received one of the refur­bished Hewlett Packard notebooks. Briody, his wife, Brittany, and the couple’s 15-month-old child were huddled in a bathroom when a giant oak, felled by the high winds, split their home in two. He saw the Family grill hurtling through the backyard at about 130 miles per hour, he said. When the tornado passed, his daughter’s bed­room was gone.

“Nobody was hurt. We were lucky,” he said, not­ing that he had to free his neighbors — a grand­mother, her daughter-in-­law and two grandchildren — from the rubble that was minutes earlier their home. The Louisiana native said he was impressed by the quality of the donated laptop. It was far from somebody’s old junk, he said.

To date, Operation Homelink has donated 3,565 computers to Sol­diers, Marines and their families, typically immedi­ately prior to deployment, according to Shannon, a real estate manager from the Chicago area. Shannon was familiar with 1st BCT from his third visit to Fort Bragg, an event in 2009 for which Dell donated 100 netbook computers to Families of the soon­to- deploy paratroopers through his organization.

Homelink’s last major donation was 150 comput­ers to Soldiers and Families of the Minnesota-based 34th Infantry Division. Shannon said he is plan­ning at least four more ma­jor donations in 2011, in­cluding one at Fort Bragg this fall.