By LISA BRITTON
Of the Baker City Herald
Dressed in blue jeans, a red sweater and a blue star flag shirt, Laurel Olmsted arranges a table in the Basche Sage Place hallway, setting up photos of her sons, patriotic poems she's written, and images from New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.
She wears a button near her right shoulder that says andquot;Ask me about MFSGandquot; and opposite is a trio of ribbons pinned to her sweater yellow to show she supports the troops, red to signify the blood that's been shed and black for the prisoners of war and those missing in action.
andquot;People ask my why I'm doing this this is why I'm doing it,andquot; Olmsted said, pointing to the framed pictures of her sons dressed in Army uniforms.
andquot;Thisandquot; is the military family support group that Olmsted officially started in February. Plans for the group began in late 2002.
Her son Dallas, 25, returned from Afganistan in July 2002, after serving in the U.S. Army for 4 years.
Dean Olmsted, 22, was deployed Feb. 23 and is stationed andquot;over there,andquot; she said, knowing only that he is somewhere in the Middle East.
andquot;We've got one letter (from Dean) I carry it,andquot; said Olmsted, pulling a folded envelope from her pocket.
On Monday the Olmsteds received their first phone call from Dean and, though only 10 minutes long, now they know he's OK.
Following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Olmsted said several people from the community asked her about starting some sort of support group.
andquot;When Dallas was in Afganistan, I wasn't strong enough physically, emotionally,andquot; she said.
Following Dallas' return to the U.S., she felt ready to organize a support group for those who have family members in the military.
She created fliers and typed up press releases to announce the new group, and set the first meeting date for Feb. 4.
andquot;The very next morning I opened my e-mail and got (Dean's) deployment notice,andquot; she said.
Her commitment to the group didn't waver, but her focus changed a bit.
andquot;I thought, 'OK, now they have to support me too,' andquot; she said.
The military family support group meets the first and third Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. in the hallway of Basche Sage Place.
Olmsted said some have asked her if the support group is for pro-war supporters.
She quickly shakes her head.
andquot;They talk about the anti-war and the pro-war,andquot; she said. andquot;There's actually three factions the anti-war, the pro-war, and the people who are here to strictly support our military.
andquot;At one of our first meeting of MFSG we all said we don't want war. Anybody is invited to the support group all they have to do is support our troops.andquot;
Yellow ribbon campaign
After establishing a set meeting schedule, the group immediately launched a local yellow ribbon campaign.
Through the Web site www.militarywivesandmoms.org, Olmsted made contact with a woman in Indiana, who sent a copy of the yellow ribbon card.
This card explains who sponsors the campaign parents and spouses of the United States military and states that andquot;You have the right to oppose the war, but please support the soldiers fighting for your right to do soandquot; by tying on a yellow ribbon.
After making copies of the card, the group has used their meeting times to attach ribbons to the sponsor cards.
The yellow ribbon has signified several causes through the years.
andquot;It was actually about a prisoner, but during Desert Storm somebody took it and made it a nationwide campaign for our soldiers,andquot; Olmsted said.
andquot;We wanted something to take to the community.andquot;
Their plan has worked so far they've given out more than 5,000 yellow ribbons, which can be seen on car antennas, pinned to shirts, and decorating bare tree limbs.
Group attendees also bring cards of encouragement for everyone to sign, which are then sent to the soldiers overseas.
andquot;There's no crying (at the meetings),andquot; said Kate Connelly, adjuntant of the American Legion, who helps with the meetings.
andquot;We don't have time to pass the Kleenex box,andquot; Olmsted added.
The group has set up several donation cans at Laurel's Handmade Gifts, Angel Kisses and Griffin's Iron Gate Deli for monetary donations. There is a box outside Laurel's Handmade Gifts for other items.
Olmsted suggests donations of fruit snacks, playing cards, jerky, gum, candy, sunflower seeds, chapstick, envelopes and stationery, sample-size shampoo, toothpaste and mouthwash, disposable cameras, newspapers, paperback books and baby wipes.
andquot;They can't shower, they don't have any water,andquot; Olmsted said, explaing the request for baby wipes.
Rolls of toilet paper are also appreciated, she said, suggesting that the paper product even works for cushioning other items in boxes sent overseas.
Which are becoming more and more regulated return addresses are often scrutinized, and generic recipients are discouraged, Olmsted said.
The donated items collected at the store will be divided into boxes, and then members of the support group will send them to their service men or women to be distributed.
Flags, pins and pendants
In addition to the yellow ribbons, Olmstead has pins, pendants and the blue-star flag available at the store. The flags are available with a different number of stars one for each family member in the military.
The flags are sold for $6 a discounted price offered from the American Legion. The Legion covers the extra cost through fund-raisers.
andquot;We also have the gold star flags which no one wants because it means you've lost someone in the military,andquot; Olmsted said.
All these preparations and activities allow the military mom to focus on something other than the war and her son's whereabouts.
andquot;I think that's why I'm so passionate about it I need something to keep me busy. I don't know where Dean's at any Army casualty is my son. Whenever you hear of a casualty it tears you up.
andquot;We have to have something to focus on that's positive. All of us can sit at home and watch CNN and Fox News but that doesn't get us anywhere,andquot; Olmsted said.
The next meeting of the military family support group will be April 1 at 6 p.m. Beverly Higley from the Red Cross will talk about changes in procedure for contacting soldiers in case of an emergency.
The support group is planning a gathering on April 5 called andquot;Rally Up America.andquot; The rally will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Olmsted encourages everyone to bring their flags, but leave their politics at home as they gather in support of the troops.
Several speakers are scheduled for the rally including Allen Chapin, a former POW as well as a variety of patriotic music.
For more information about the support group or rally, call Olmsted at 523-1150.