Monday, 12 August 2013

serving real HEROES

I am very proud to be working with a group known as Aussie Hero Quilts and Laundry bags, supporting our men and women deployed overseas. Between January 2012 and August 2013 AHQ  sent 1868 quilts and 3005 laundry bags to Aussies serving overseas.

It began in October 2011 as an activity for one Sydney quilting group who made and posted 15 laundry bags and 24 quilts to a group of soldiers deployed in Afghanistan. The response was so heart warming that the group were inspired to sew for deployed relatives and friends of friends and by the 1st of January 2012 the blog was launched and the group was becoming an Australia wide organisation with ALL our Aussie men and women serving overseas on their list.   
It is not possible to count the people involved because it's purely voluntary and people contribute when and how they are able. Even the core group has changed over time, except for the original co-ordinator and founder Jan-Maree, former RAAF herself, who receives requests, assigns missions and keeps track of the projects.  And, she also sews.  We all sew in one way or another, many sew laundry bags, some make patchwork blocks, some sew the blocks together to make quilts, some appliqué, some just quilt and many are able to combine all those talents and turn out full quilts.

The age of AHQers ranges from 7 years up to 101 and we include several men in the ranks. There are people sewing for Aussie Heroes in every state and territory of Australia and even a few from overseas. Those who sew are married, single, mothers, grandmas, wives or children of service men and women, ex-serving members, wives of veterans, and people who just care a lot.

Applique blocks and laundry bags
Laundry bags and quilts are sent in response to requests received from serving members - for themselves, the men serving under them or their mates. Other requests come from wives, girlfriends or mothers. Sometimes a box of laundry bags will be sent to a chaplain to be handed out to men and women, who do not receive other mail. Our parcels go to Army, Air Force and Navy personnel, in several different countries and at sea. To keep track of so many items and so many recipients, all orders go through Jan-Maree.

So the next question is why? 
Don't our armed services supply the needs of serving members?
The answer is yes, they do - but in bulk, and everything looks alike. Laundry bags for example are issued in plain white or green or sometimes pale blue. You write your initials on the outside with a marker pen and take the bag, filled with your dirty uniform, to the laundry. Some laundries are huge and are run by local people. You drop off your bag and come back a few days later to find hundreds of laundry bags waiting, all look exactly the same. It is common for soldiers to lose their laundry in this situation and much time is wasted looking for belongings that have been taken by mistake. 

Colourful laundry bags
Other posts have a small DIY laundry. You put your dirty uniform into a washing machine and leave your laundry bag on top. There is no time to stand around waiting, you might only be on base for two days and have other things to catch up with like eating and sleeping, so the machine is left to do the job. When the load is finished the next person pulls out the wet contents and loads them into a dryer with the laundry bag hanging on the door. When that dryer is needed by someone else your clothes are removed and stuffed into your laundry bag. You return to find your laundry, hopefully washed, dried and bagged, waiting. BUT some of these bags are mesh and hard to name, some are plastic shopping bags or clones of standard issue and easily mixed up so, once again, you have the frustrating task of searching for a clean uniform or going without.

AHQ laundry bags are made of bright fabrics with patches for initials or even the actual initials stitched on the outside. The most important thing is THEY ARE ALL DIFFERENT.  Just imagine how red and orange stripes or big pictures of daffy duck would stand out in a pile of lookalike bags.

Laundry bag (hanging) and quilt made for a RAAF fireman

And quilts. Aren't most of our deployed service men and women in hot deserts?  Well many of them are, but it can get pretty cold in the desert at night and did you know that it snows in Afghanistan in winter?  But our washable cotton quilts are not just for warmth, they are for colour and caring and to bring something from home into a harsh environment. They brighten up a dreary sleeping area or wrap around the shoulders of lonely men, like a big hug.  In fact the size we use, length and width is designed to do exactly that.

Quilts in the desert
We also make WWQs (wounded warrior quits) and some are kept on hand to be transported to hospital with the wounded. Sadly, there is the occasional need for a Fallen Warriors Quilt.  You can read more about this on the blog.

WWQ always have an Aussie theme

And the rewards? We get many rewards in the form of messages that are received every week and shared at - 

Thank you so very much for my laundry bag! I absolutely love the colours and patterns. I really appreciate the effort and time you have taken to create this for me.  Receiving this gift has completely made my day and it will be something that will make me smile every time I look at it on our continuing patrols in the Middle East. It is easy to forget that other people apart from family appreciate what we are doing and it is very heart warming on these open lonely seas so far from home to be reminded of others back at home thinking of us.
I am currently serving in the Middle east on deployment and would be honoured to receive an Aussie quilt.   Thank you so much for your kind thoughts it means a lot to us over here as we miss home terribly and to know we are thought of by many back home keeps us going stronger every day.
Having a network like yours sending these gifts over here not only brings colour to our life, but reinforces the fact that we are not alone.  It is nice to have a constant visual reminder that the folks back home care enough to go to all this effort for us. These quilts and laundry bags are special to us not just for what they are, but also for what they represent.
Afghanistan is a very bleak place, so it's really nice to have something girlie in a place like that. I have to honestly say that although I have never met you, every time I do my laundry I think of your kindness. I do believe that what goes around comes around, and you have a lot of good coming your way! 

I am touched by your generosity, kindness and supportiveness to all the troops that are putting their life on the line for our country. It is people like you and your helpers in this project, that make us feel that what we are doing here, and being away from our family and friends for such a long period of time, is worth it.
Thank you very much for the Quilt and Laundry bag which arrived in country around on the 2nd of June. However, I didn't receive it until the 8th because I've been very busy over the last few weeks.
I would like you to know that I now have a laundry bag that is envied by all who see it.  It is very distinct and has bought many comments. It is also extremely easy to find amongst the piles of washing.
The quilt is awesome. I have it in my room and took it out with me one time, however, I don't think I will be doing that again as it got filthy.  I had to wash it twice.  I felt terrible as I was wondering when I washed it if Sue would be unhappy with me. She did say this is the only Quilt like it in the world. However, it kept me warm and I didn't need to carry around a giant sleeping bag. I hope you are well and all is well with Aussie Hero Quilts. Thank you once again. 
I am so pleased to hear about a quilt group sewing for such a worthy cause. I am a quilter who is deployed (separated from my machine - oh the injustice),  I started quilting many, many moons ago.  This email is because I would love a quilt.  I  have never had one made for me and it would give me great pleasure to receive one.  I have actually been going around camp admiring those who have chosen to put theirs on display and I try to view as many as possible.  I really am experiencing my own private quilt show - what fun.
Hi Ladies,  Just a quick note to say how awesome the quilt and laundry bags are that XXX received from you.  I had a look at your blog and I think it is a fantastic thing that you are doing. What a great bunch of ladies! I love the kangaroo on XXX's quilt. I think you ladies are the Aussie Hero's - it is always great when people appreciate us.
I have a bright doona cover over here, so do not need a quilt but would really love a bright, loud laundry bag if someone has the time.
The impact your group is having is just incredible.  I have made it my mission to ask everyone I meet if they have a quilt.  It is just amazing seeing grown men melt as they talk about "their" quilt.  The disbelief they have of a group of caring people actually taking the time and making the effort to put so much work into an item blows them away and they cannot believe that you ask for nothing for in return.  I met a guy only  a couple of days ago who said that he only had a laundry bag now, I asked him why?  He told me that he received a Star Wars quilt and it was just brilliant.  He was showing it off, when his mate begged to have it as he was such a big star wars fan.  He did not have the heart to say no and passed it over.  He found great pleasure in giving too.  The impact on morale is just beautiful. The laundry bags are all being used and it seems to be a fashion statement for some.  It's nice to see them sitting on top of the washing machines to mark which tub has their items. 

Laundry in Kandahar

You can find AHQ on facebook
or see the blog here  

A group quilt, blocks made by different people and others putting it together

                "We care about the people, not the politics or the mission."

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