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.
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.