Platoons Forward works to provide soldiers with the comforts of home

The parking lot of a Hy-Vee grocery store in Lenexa seems an unlikely place to inspire an idea that would help thousands of combat soldiers.

But that’s just what happened for Sid Linver.

The retired Army colonel and decorated Vietnam veteran was walking to his car when he spotted a ribbon-shaped decal that was face down on the asphalt. He picked it up, assuming it was one of those popular stickers recognizing the troops. Instead, the sentiment was about supporting the Kansas City Chiefs.

“What’s wrong with these people?” he recalls saying.

Linver’s anger passed, replaced by a passion to show support for the troops in a way that went beyond plastering a decal on a car.

He recalled how much it meant to him when he was a soldier to receive packages from home filled with snacks and other items. He used his military contacts to find a unit in Iraq that could use them. Linver and his wife, working out of their dining room, sent 100 care packages to combat soldiers in Iraq in their first year.

That was in 2007, and their effort has become known as Platoons Forward.

A Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Lenexa eventually took over, and the additional volunteers have helped send 3,000 packages since the program started.

This Memorial Day weekend, the VFW post, Jewish War Veterans, Boy Scouts of America, churches and synagogues are working to fill 600 packages to send to soldiers in remote combat areas in Afghanistan. The effort also has gained corporate support from Frito-Lay and Walmart stores.

“This is for the guys who don’t have PXs or hot water,” said Bob Moyer, quartermaster of VFW Post 7397 in Lenexa. “We’re going to do this until they get out of there.”

The items sent are ones specifically requested by the soldiers, including movies, coffee, tea, canned soups, toothpaste and hand warmers. Spices to make Army meals more palatable and small stuffed animals to give to children in Afghanistan are also popular.

“Overall I think the guys are probably homesick and want stuff to remind them of home,” a sergeant wrote when forwarding the wish lists from his unit.

Platoons Forward volunteers will be at a handful of Walmart stores in Johnson County through Monday handing out the wish lists to arriving shoppers. They then can buy some of the items and put them in a large container at the front of the stores to be packaged and shipped to the troops.

Cash donations are also accepted to help pay for shipping. It costs $13.45 to send one package, and over the years the bill has totaled about $40,000.

The deliveries to remote combat operations can be harrowing, performed by helicopter or by air-dropping pallets whose landings are softened by parachutes. The British Broadcasting Corp. filmed one such delivery, with trucks going out to get the air-dropped boxes while a siren warned of an impending attack.

Christopher Greca, sergeant major with the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, said programs like Platoons Forward are what make this country special. Deployed soldiers need to feel appreciated for their service and sacrifice.

“The boxes represent a nation that cares,” he said.

Platoons Forward has spread to Maine and Texas, and Linver is gratified by the support shown to the troops. He is volunteering this weekend at one of the area Walmarts, and he finds the shoppers are eager to help.

“When we tell them this is for the soldiers in Afghanistan, they put on the brakes,” he said. “People want to do the right thing. They just need to know how to go about doing it.”