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Troops welcomed home in Gouverneur

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GOUVERNEUR — Recently returned troops were welcomed home Sunday at a luncheon at the American Legion, 163 E. Main St., that was put on by Grace M. Gates, chairwoman of Care Packages for Soldiers.

Ms. Gates, along with Care Packages for Soldiers committee members and volunteers, cooked up a spread, feeding 10 of the 130 soldiers the group of volunteers most recently “adopted” and their families.

“When we adopt them, we really adopt them as part of our family,” Ms. Gates said.

Most of the soldiers who came out to enjoy the welcome-home party were from Fort Drum.

Capt. Andrew L. McCarthy, a logistics officer with the 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment of Fort Drum, deployed to the Ghazni Province of Afghanistan, was Ms. Gates’s contact when she sent the unit’s care packages.

“It’s very satisfying to know that there are so many people among the community that support us and our mission,” he said. “It was always a relief to receive a package of candies or cookies that within about two days is gone.”

Ms. Gates’s six-year operation of sending care packages to soldiers overseas began when she sent Christmas decorations to her grandson, who was deployed in Iraq.

“The first thing he said to me was, ‘Nanna, if you hadn’t sent them, we wouldn’t have had a Christmas,’” she said. “We’ve adopted soldiers from all over, but every time we do it, we adopt one unit from Fort Drum.”

Ms. Gates said this is the fifth dinner the group has held for returning troops.

Roland L. Roderick, a soldier from Gouverneur who is a neighbor of Ms. Gates, recently returned from a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan as part of a security forces team. He attended the party with his family.

“It’s good to be back,” he said.

Mr. Roderick has been deployed four times and has attended three of Ms. Gates’s welcoming parties.

His 6-year-old daughter, Hannah M., was only 9 months old for the first party they attended.

“I’m so glad to see them still doing it,” said Mr. Roderick’s wife, Bridget S. “To know that there’s still people out there that think of them keeps their morale up.”

Michael D. Spalla’s 4-month-old daughter, Eloise L., was born while he was on a nine-month deployment in Afghanistan as a chaplain for the 1-87 at Fort Drum. His wife, Danelle L., Watertown, said it’s really great having her husband home with her and their new daughter.

“It gets really lonely when they’re gone, especially when you have a baby, knowing that he’s missing out on her first laugh and smile,” she said.

Mrs. Spalla said she is very thankful to the people in Gouverneur who sent out care packages to her husband and other troops.

“I was busy trying to take care of a pregnancy and a baby, and it was nice knowing that other people were taking care of my family as well,” she said.

Mr. Spalla said that her husband saw firsthand how the soldiers were affected by the care packages and that he was also very thankful for them.

“They’re supporting us as much now as they did during deployment,” he said. “Those care packages really did brighten up their day.”

Linda J. Gilbo, Richville, became a member of Ms. Gates’s team after her husband, Gary A., received a care package from Ms. Gates while he was deployed in Iraq more than a year ago. She said her husband is serving in Afghanistan and is expected home in the spring.

“It’s important that we support them while they’re fighting for freedom,” she said.


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