Linda Gatton knows as well as anyone that when times get tough, it takes more than a yellow ribbon bumper sticker to support the troops in Iraq.
Sometimes green is better than yellow.
Her grandson, Pfc. Robert Cook, of Grafton, is serving his second tour of duty as the member of a security company in Iraq. It is a job that consists of conducting house-to-house searches in insurgent strongholds and patrolling the violent Iraqi streets.
Cook recently was informed his company will be expected to serve a third tour in Iraq.
“Every time I leave my son, I feel like I’m hugging him for the last time,” Gatton said, referring to the boy she raised since he was 18 months old as her son. “I’m usually awake for most of the night.”
Gatton, an auxiliary member of AMVETS, which is a support organization for active duty military personnel and veterans, decided to put on a fundraiser for 28 active duty Marines. She said that when she realized how much money she was sending Cook for basic necessities and a little extra spending money, her concern spread to other families who may not be able to swing sending such sums to relatives serving overseas.
“I look at all the cars driving around with these ribbons, but they’re not supporting our troops by buying stickers,” Gatton said. “I thought, ‘Let’s give them a chance to really support our troops.’ ”
Soon Brenda Scott, a bartender at the AMVETS post on Middle Avenue in Elyria, joined the cause. Now, the two women are planning a fundraising bash at the post’s pavilion featuring pizza, beer and a raffle. So far local pizza joints, golf courses, barbers and other businesses have donated food and prizes for the June 24 event.
“There are Marines who send all their money home to their families, and they don’t have enough money left to buy some of the stuff they need,” Scott said. “A lot of the gentlemen are married. It’s worrisome.”
Financial woes are nothing new to enlisted soldiers and their families.
Jim Younkin, a service officer for the Lorain County Veterans Service Commission helps to run a county-funded program that provides financial assistance to the families of active service members. But he acknowledged the application process however, can be grueling.
Younkin said the commission only meets twice a month. An investigator also must review the application to verify financial need and, after that, there is a seven- to 10 day waiting period before benefits are granted, assuming the paperwork went through smoothly.
The Veterans Service Commission walks applicants through the process to make it as easy as possible for families in need to get funding that could potentially keep the lights on for another month.
But simple, grassroots efforts have the potential to raise fast cash without all the red tape, Gatton said.
Gatton plans to have any money raised during the benefit deposited straight onto debit cards that are sent to the soldiers in Iraq. No applications. No investigations.
In Iraq, a service member’s paycheck tends to go quickly. Cook’s grandfather, Robert Gatton, said a Bic cigarette lighter costs $5 in the green zone and that even necessities like socks and foot powder are grossly overpriced.
“Those boys aren’t getting a fair shake,” Robert Gatton said. “$1,400 a month just isn’t enough.”
For Linda Gatton, the fundraiser is also meant as a reminder that some of her son’s best friends, like Lance Cpl. Henry Bogrette from New York, have already paid the ultimate price.
“My husband and I went to his funeral,” Linda Gatton said. “It felt like we were going to our own son’s funeral.”
Contact Ben Norris at 329-7155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
At a glance
The fundraiser to to help support 28 active duty Marines will be at 3 p.m. June 24 at the AMVETS pavilion on Middle Avenue in Elyria. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children.