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  Compadres - Standing Down

Effective September 2013, after eight years of bringing generous and caring donors together with U.S. Armed Forces chaplains and troops both overseas and at home, ComPadres is suspending its fundraising and support activities.

This decision has been made in light of the end of U.S. military involvement in Iraq, the significant troop draw-down in Afghanistan and the greater access for most deployed troops to PX’s and other sources for the supplies ComPadres used to provide.

We want to extend our heartfelt thanks to so many individuals, parishes and schools who have donated so generously over the years! With your help, we have raised well over $150,000 which enabled us to offer help to many chaplains for their troops deployed overseas as well as to troops and their families at home.

Over the years, we have shopped for, packed and shipped snack foods, clothing, computers and computer games, books, DVDs, sports equipment, countless phone cards and PX cards, refrigerators, furniture, and much more. Chaplains have purchased and been reimbursed for hymnals, missalettes, processional crosses, and musical instruments. We have provided low- income military families with shopping funds so children of deployed troops would have gifts under their trees at Christmas. All this and more, thanks to the generous support of so many!

On behalf of dozens of chaplains and countless troops we together have served over the years, ComPadres send you all our thanks, blessings and prayers of gratitude.



Benefit for Barkemeyer this Saturday (5/19)

Slaj & Scharpf at the Friendly Tap

This Saturday, May 19, Slaj and Scharpf, music's answer to Hannity and Colmes, bring their folk stylings to the Friendly Tap in a benefit for Father John Barkemeyer. Father Barkemeyer has recently returned to Afghanistan, where the war doesn't end. For our soldiers, there is neverending duty, and they answer the call, day in, day out. A small donation (or large) benefits Father Barkemeyer, who in turn finds creative ways to help our military keep body and soul together in difficult circumstances. This is truly God's work, but it can't proceed without you, so come on out.

The Friendly Tap is located at 6733 West Roosevelt. The fun starts at 7 and $10 will get you in (but you can donate more). If you're under 21 you're welcome, but will be carded at the bar. Slaj and Scharpf will be playing their usual mix, but word has it that a special tribute to Levon Helm is being contemplated. Guest starring with the dynamic duo is the popular Laura Butler. Come on out, especially if you've never had the pleasure, and support our chaplain and our men and women in Afghanistan. Let's fill it.





Sir,

On behalf of my wife, three triplet girls, and myself, I wanted to express our thanks and appreciation for the cards that were donated. It definitely provided some assistance in getting good quality presents for the family. We are stationed in Fort Carson, CO with the 10th Special Forces Group. It was quite a blessing to receive some cards that were donated through the Compadres organization.

May God continue to bless you, and all of the people that participated in these donations.

Happy Holidays,
Martin Cruz and family.




CHRISTMAS FOR FORT CARSON KIDS

Will you help?



For so many children of parents in the military, this will be a Christmas without Mom or Dad, and that is heartbreaking for kids and parents alike. Another burden on many military parents is the worry that their limited funds will prevent them from providing their children with the gifts they're hoping to open on Christmas day. Many of our military families even have to rely on food stamps throughout the year, so Christmas presents are luxury items they simply cannot afford. Will you help?

In recognition of the sacrifices our military families make, ComPadres invite you to make a donation to our Christmas for Fort Carson Kids Appeal. ComPadres will use your cash donation to purchase gift cards that for the families of service men and women serving at Father (Chaplain) John Barkemeyer's post at Fort Carson CO. A donation of $10 could buy one gift… $30 might buy all the presents for one child… $100 could mean Christmas gifts for an entire family! Will you help?



Benefit for Barkemeyer in Chicagoland

Slaj & Scharpf Rock the Doc II

To all of our supporters in Chicagoland, mark FRIDAY, AUGUST 26. In what's becoming an annual event, two of Chicago's stellar folk musicians will play a benefit for Father John Barkemeyer to support his work as chaplain. Father John currently tends to the needs of soldiers between tours or back home, and is returning to field duty in a few months. The benefit will be at DOC RYAN'S at 7432 MADISON on the strip in FOREST PARK - 6:30-10:30. Sponsored by the Compadres, $20 will get you in. This is a great opportunity to come out and support Father John and our service men and women. Doc's full menu will be available, so come by after work, have some eats, and stay for the music.

If you have any questions, contact Mike Slajchert at slajhammer@yahoo.com, or go on FACEBOOK -- "SLAJ AND SCHARPF ROCK THE DOC II" - and you can share the event. LET'S MAKE A CROWD.



We have much to be thankful for this year...

For Compadres and the chaplains and soldiers we support, we feel compelled to give special recognition -- and shout VIVA -- to the Chicagoland schools who year in and year out support our program through our Hearts From Home initiative in 2010. These schools are our bedrock -- year in and year out -- with donations large and small, both monetary and spiritual. Here are the schools in the past year who have been part of this initiative:

St. Michael School Orland Park
St. Mary of Gostyn School Downer's Grove
Queen of Angels School Chicago, IL
Brother Rice High School Chicago, IL
St. Joseph School Round Lake
St. Cornelius School Chicago, IL
Queen of the Rosary School Elk Grove Village
St. Bernardine School Forest Park
St. Alexander School Palos Heights
Our Lady of Tapayec High School Chicago, IL
Fenwick High School Oak Park
St. Francis Xavier School Wilmette
St. Bede School Ingleside

. . . and a special shout to Mary Ann Wilson and Prince of Peace School in Lakeville, who contributed through their Red White and Blue Day.




Hear Compadres on
Chicago’s 950AM
Skinny and Houli Show



Benefit for Barkemeyer in Chicagoland

Slaj & Scharpf Rock the Doc

To all of our supporters in Chicagoland, mark Thursday, July 22nd. That’s the night that two of Chicago’s stellar folk musicians will play a benefit for Father John Barkemeyer to support his work as chaplain. Father John currently tends to the needs of soldiers between tours or back home. The benefit will be at Doc Ryan’s at 7432 Madison on the strip in Forest Park – 6:30-10:30. Sponsored by Fenwick High School – with a little help from their Compadres -- $20 will get you in ($10 with any student ID). This is a great opportunity to come out and support Father John and our service men and women. Doc’s full menu will be available, so come by after work, have some eats, and stay for the music.

If you have any questions, contact Mike Slajchert at slajhammer@yahoo.com, or go to www.blackbirdsmusic.net




Welcome to Father Jeffrey Whorton, a chaplain in Mosul, Iraq



Father Whorton says Mass on the road (left) and at St. Elijah's, an ancient monastery in Mosul (right)

Father has this to say about the monastery:

"This is the oldest monastery in Iraq. In the mid-1700s it was destroyed and the 150 or so occupants, priests, monks et al. were killed. To be able to offer mass there on the feast day of St. Ignatius was a rare treat."

Through your generosity, the Compadres were able to help Father Whorton and his soldiers with a few items.


Again, Father Whorton:

"All went well at the PX in Tal Afar (FOB Sykes). We were able to get the TV, Xbox, two games and two controlers. The grand total was $1278.75. My card worked fine! I should have taken a picture of the whole affair. We flew at night "under goggles" (blacked out for security reasons). There were several soldiers crammed in the bird with all their weapons and gear and there was the ComPardre's gift, a giant 42 in. TV in the middle of all the soldiers!

It was a sight to behold. Taking all the stuff on the Hawk was the safest way to get it back to Mosul. I did not want to risk a convoy for a TV. But TVs and Blackhawks are not the best traveling partners.

All is well. We have had some deaths recently, so please keep us in your prayers. The ministry of ComPadre's is doing a great service to those who risk everything each day."



How YOU Can Make a Difference for the Troops!

Here's how we work:
  • ComPadres is an all-volunteer effort with no paid employees. Every dollar we spend goes to purchasing and shipping supplies, and covering our very modest administrative costs.
  • From people like you, we gather tax-deductible contributions in the form of credit card donations using PayPal or checks sent to us c/o St. Rita High School in Chicago.
  • We ask the chaplains who are directly serving troops overseas what they think their troops need, right now. (Go here to see what we’ve shipped.)
  • We shop carefully, and tax-free, at stores like WalMart, Menard's, and Home Depot for quantities of things the troops have specifically requested.
  • We have ComPadres "pack-and-ship" sessions in volunteers' homes, and most of the goods we send are in the troops' hands in just nine or ten days!

You might think your individual contribution of $25, or $100, or just $10 can't have much impact and won't make a difference for the troops. But REMEMBER -- bundled together with the donations of our many other supporters, and spent carefully on things the troops and chaplains have specifically requested, your donation will make a positive difference!

Won't you please support our troops today? Please consider making a donation. You can CLICK HERE to make a tax deductible donation, or you can send a check to:

ComPadres
c/o St. Rita of Cascia High School
7740 S. Western
Chicago IL 60620


If your local school students, or the people at your workplace, or any other group are looking for a unique and effective way to support the troops overseas, please consider holding a ComPadres "Hearts from Home" day. It's one more way to get a lot of people involved... and to prove, once again, that a lot of modest contributions can really add up, and make a big difference!


Viva Office of the Cook County Sheriff

For the second year in a row, a former employee of the Cook County Sheriff's Department (Cook County, Illinois) has made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the military overseas. And for the second year in a row, employees of the Department were moved to remember this sacrifice.

This year, it was Cook County Boot Camp Drill Instructor Derwin Williams who was killed in July while serving in Afghanistan with the Illinois Army National Guard.

During October, Sheriff's Department staff collected a huge number of toiletries and personal items that all of our soldiers use on a daily basis - shaving cream, dental floss, eye drops, deodorant. The drive also included donations made by students whose parents work for the Department and who collected and bagged items from their classmates. When the collection was done, there were 55 boxes worth (yep, 55) of personal items.

The Department contacted the Compadres to see if they could help, as they did last year, and the Compadres stepped up -- funding a priority mailing to soldiers overseas, and using their network of connections with chaplains in Iran and Afghanistan to distribute the boxes.

Once the drop-off date was decided, all 55 boxes were loaded into vans and driven to Compadre Missy Rossi's home. The collection of items was presented to the Compadres by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and Tracey Steele, Special Projects Coordinator for the Sheriff's Office. Finally, the boxes were readied for shipping to different contacts in Iraq and Afghanistan and sent on the Monday before Thanksgiving.

Congratulations to the Cook County Sheriff's Department.

For more on Derwin Williams, and the retirement of his sherriff's badge, go here:

http://www.southtownstar.com/news/1673113,071909williams.article

http://www.southtownstar.com/neighborhoodstar/chicagoheights/1874074,sheriff-badge-retired-1109.article




Just a mention . . . .

We'd like to salute a number of chaplains with whom we've either worked or simply been in touch with. They have all served, and some are currently deployed, in far-off places in time of war -- in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Phillipines. They attempt to keep souls together against some stern odds, and they deserve our attention . . . and our prayers.

They are:

  • Leah Boling / Air Force / Baptist









    Needed items distributed at women's shelter and orphanage Leah Boling at work at the orphanage


  • Tyson Wood / Army / Roman Catholic
    Here's an online article about Father Wood from a couple of years back... « LINK »







    Serving the soldiers -- celebrating Mass in many places, whenever it works


  • Nathan Kline / Army / Church of Latter Day Saints


    cutting it close

    with Father John Barkemeyer


  • John Hannigan / Marines / Roman Catholic

    *** Pictures and information on Father Hannigan and his work can be found at www.seatofwisdom.net


  • Jason DiPinto / Marines / Roman Catholic
    See his correspondence here



  • Saint Patrick's Day in Iraq (Part II)

    Firstly, from First Sergeant McWilliams, the man who started the whole ball rolling:

    Our Parade worked out great. Granted we had a little dust in the air but it was still a great success and you should all be proud. I have been inundated with thank you's from all of the Soldiers and civilians and I want to pass that on to all of you, without you this would not have been possible. I had a full bird Colonel tell me that this was the best day he has had since being deployed and believes that it will remain so.

    Thanks again. It almost felt like we were home. The guys in my unit have decided we are going to attempt a reunion for the Parade in 2010 at my house. I'll let you know how that goes.


    Here are some pics from Parade Day!
    This includes pics of the Saint Patty's Parade Day Run -- another part of the celebration.


    Final Preparations

    The Grand Marshall

    Here They Come

    CHEESEHEADS


    One of Many Beautiful Floats

    Ready to Race

    More Racing

    Yet More Racing


    The final word on these revelries is left to Maureen McWilliams, the wife of First Sergeant McWilliams.

    Hello South Side Irish Parade Committee,

    I wanted to send out a thank you to all of you from me and my entire family. You have truly made this the best parade ever for us. I didn't believe that would be possible with Mac being gone. Making this parade in Baghdad happen, has given us so much joy and pride and overwhelming feelings of thankfulness. We have been amazed at how much Irish goodies you gathered and how quickly you all jumped in and did this for my husband and his unit. I am not sure if you realize the domino effect you have caused. By helping the soldiers feel a sense of home and community and happiness, you have also made each of their families feel that, tenfold.


    That about says it all, doesn't it?



    Saint Patrick's Day in Iraq (PART I)

    The Saint Patrick's Day South Side Irish Parade in Baghdad. Sounds funny, doesn't it?

    It really happened, though -- in 21 days -- stateside and overseas.

    How?

    It all started with an email from First Sergeant Scott McWilliams
    to the South Side Irish Parade Committee (SSIPC) in Chicago.

    My name is Scott McWilliams, and I normally carry the Flag of Heroes for Tom Taff and the Bucks for Burn Camp, in the Parade. Currently I am stationed in Baghdad with the US Army and my Reserve Unit, the 416th Theater Engineer Command. As the First Sergeant for my unit it is my responsibility to provide for the morale of my troops. Being as a good many of us are from the Chicago area I thought we could have our own Parade and Party here. I ask for help in locating sponsors willing to donate anything other than alcohol to this event. We are not allowed to partake in the water of life while we are deployed.


    Mary Beth Sheehan, a Compadre who is instrumental in organizing the South Side Irish Parade,
    saw the Sergeant's email on the SSIPC website, and sent an email to Tim Traynor, el Primo Compadre.

    I think that Scott's idea is a really unique one, and is hopefully one that will help a lot with the morale of his troops, many of whom are from Chicago. However, the SSIP Committee is really under the gun at this point, both in terms of time and in terms of $$$. There is no way that we could make this request happen on such short notice, but I would really like to see Scott be successful with this endeavor.


    Tim immediately sent an email to all Compadres:

    This is a bit outside of our normal parameters as it wasn't requested by a chaplain, but we certainly know it will benefit local troops. Scott can find a chaplain over there to provide his imprimatur if we ask for one.

    The usual three "crunch" issues apply here: money, manpower, and time. So, in that order:
    1. Money: How do directors feel about earmarking $1,000 or so to make this a special day for these troops?
    2. Manpower: Then, if we earmark some money, are there some of us who can jump on this with gusto, and buy, beg or borrow the kinds of items listed above?
    3. Time: Can we get the shopping, begging or borrowing done in time that the packages are packed and shipped Priority Mail by February 27th or 28th, allowing two full weeks for the stuff to get to Baghdad?


    Then came the answer:

    YES WE CAN!

    There was this from Compadre Ceil Kelly:

    Sounds like great ideas on the St. Pat's Party in Baghdad. I will try to get a couple of boxes at work here and I can call Doolins today and get the prices on the little flags. Linda Gorman is great at the South Side Irish Imports. I am sure she would be willing to help.


    And more from Mary Beth:

    Great news! Just got home from the SSIP Committee meeting, and the committee was very eager to help Mac and his troops.
    1. We have a very, very nice unique pin designed and manufactured each year that incorporates the SSIP logo (based upon the Celtic cross) and the year of the parade. These pins are collectibles for band members, police officers, and firefighters, many of whom visit our parade from different cities.
    2. We have some old parade merchandise hanging out in my garage that I got approval to send over. We have almost 200 or so sweatshirts left, so we're going to send all of those to Mac.
    3. The committee wants to have a custom banner specifically made in the name of Mac's unit. We can have it made in plenty of time to get it shipped out by the deadline that Tim previously outlined.


    Compadre Pam Lippert organized shopping runs for Saint Patrick's day paraphernalia -
    hats, funny glasses, decorations, and anything else she thought would work.
    Rick Greenfield, another Compadre, obtained indispensable CDs of Irish music for the Baghdad party.

    Added to the mix were thank-you notes and drawings from the kids at Queen of the Rosary School in Chicagoland.

    In the end, with additional help from SSIPC member Pat Heffernan,
    28 BOXES were shipped on March 9 to Sergeant McWilliams. All 28 were delivered on time.

    From Sergeant McWilliams:

    Hello South Side,

    The boxes have arrived. They are stacked from floor to ceiling in my office. People here are simply amazed. I am not sure how to thank everyone, but I will come up with something. This will be more than enough to make this a great day.

    Since putting up the posters here we have been contacted by a number of people wanting to participate, namely a gentleman from Dublin, Seamus Dunne. I met with him today and he is going to bring a group of people to walk with us and join the party. I have contacted a group of Brits who I've been told have brought their pipes and we are trying to get them here also.


    FOR THE VIDEO, GO HERE:
    http://www.dvidshub.net/?script=video/video_show.php&id=56431

    FOR MORE ON THE SOUTH SIDE IRISH PARADE, GO HERE:
    http://southsideirishparade.org

    AND HERE (login may be needed):
    http://www.southwestobserver.com/observer-live/2009-south-side-parade-video-archives-11-23908

    CHECK BACK IN LATER FOR PART II
    -more PICS, more CELEBRATION, more of EVERYTHING!











    It's a Compadres New Year!

    That means, firstly, it's "Hearts From Home" time. If you'd like to hold a "Hearts From Home" with your school, business, or other group, please just e-mail us for more information at MAILDESK@THECOMPADRES.ORG.

    And secondly, we have a New Year's offering for you...



    This is the picture on the front of our new Compadres calendar. Each month of the New Year has a picture appropriate to the month, all memorable photos reflecting aspects of our soldiers' lives on the battlefront: pics of happy Iraqi schoolchildren, a soldier at prayer, a military doctor caring for a small child, the horizon at sundown in Iraq.

    For the month of January only (or until they last) -- for a donation of $20 -- we will send you the Compadres 2009 calendar. The calendars are a special, one-of-a-kind item, carefully formatted and styled by one of our own Compadres, Missy Rossi. Take advantage of this offer, and support the work of the Compadres: "Helping to Help the Chaplains Help the Troops.".




    A SCOUT TO THE RESCUE (PART III)
    Bags and Boards are game of choice for these soldiers.
    Click on photos to enlarge





    Our scout's carefully crafted products have arrived at their final destination: Camp Navarro in the Philippines, and the men and women under the pastoral care of Command Chaplain Leah B. Boling (Major USAF).



    A SCOUT TO THE RESCUE (PART II)

    Click on photos to enlarge





        
    Declan and his crew, including his Uncle John, assemble the game boards.

    Declan with the finished product, ready for shipping.

    Declan with Compadres Tim Traynor (fearless leader) and Ceil Kelly.

    Declan with his mom, MaryClare, and Tim Traynor.


    Declan's mom, MaryClare, explains the benefits of giving

    While an Eagle Project is intended to serve to others, I believe the Scout himself benefits even more. He receives encouragement and direction from many adults and experiences the importance of following through on his commitments. He must solve problems encountered over the course of the project and assure the end result is high quality. Upon completion, he feels pride in a job well done and realizes the joy that comes from serving others. Thank you for providing such an important opportunity to Declan. A special thanks is due to his uncle, John Kerrigan, who mentored him through the project and cheerfully weathered the challenge of supervising an enthusiastic but impatient teenager.



    A SCOUT TO THE RESCUE (PART I)

    Declan Birmingham, the son of Compadre MaryClare Birmingham, had an idea he wanted to present to the Compadres at our June meeting. He wanted to fulfill one of the many requirements necessary for becoming an Eagle Scout. His proposal? Make customized bean bag games and have them shipped to soldiers serving in overseas battle zones. For these soldiers, recreation is more than a fun way to pass the time -- it's one way to let loose and maintain some semblance of balance in the midst of war. With a little downpayment for materials from the Compadres, Declan was on his way.

    Click on photos to enlarge


    Declan at the June Compadres meeting

    Declan working with his uncle and mentor, John Kerrigan, choosing logos and cutting fabric for bean bags. Declan would take the material later to a bean bag workshop that he had organized.









    Volunteers create 48 bean bags for the project. Declan recruited, taught, and supervised the volunteers (the Hulsebosch family from Palatine, Illinois) to iron on logos, sew bags, measure corn filler, and fill the bags.




      SOLDIERS RELAX, REFLECT AT HOME

    Father John Barkmeyer, now stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, was looking for a way to minister to soldiers adjusting to life back in the US after tours in Iraq. Father John decided to try a completely novel approach -- with some financial assistance from the Compadres.

    We'll let Father John describe it:
    "For the soldiers coming home from Iraq, I am doing a series of retreats to help them reintergrate onto society here after being gone for so long. What I try to do is give them something special to do and then offer a reflection in the middle of it.

    You wouldn't think shooting each other with paint is how these guys [and gals] would want to wind down but they sure seemed to enjoy it!"

    The looks on the faces of these soldiers would seem to bear that out.




    Click on photos to enlarge








    In 2005, Father John Barkemeyer, a Catholic priest, pastor, and lifelong Chicagoan, decided to leave his southwest-side parish of St. Cajetan and join the U.S. Army as a fulltime chaplain. Father John had seen many young men volunteering for the military from his own neighborhood and parish and was struck by the urgent need for chaplains to minister to courageous and selfless young men and women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

    Moved by his commitment and sacrifice, a number of Father John's parishioners, friends, and family formed a chaplain-support group called "ComPadres." It's mission? "To support Father John Barkemeyer and other chaplains in their sacred service to U.S. armed forces, by providing whatever financial and material support will enable them to minister most effectively." The simple assumption was that chaplains would know what they needed. Our mission has succeeded far beyond our early expectations!

    Father John has served one full mission in Iraq and has just ended a second, 15-month deployment serving soldiers and Marines in Al Anbar province. He has introduced some of his chaplain colleagues to ComPadres.

    ComPadres, in turn, has raised well over $100,000 and used the funds to supply Father John and other chaplains with whatever the chaplains felt would be most helpful and encouraging for the troops they were serving.

    We've sent countless shipments of PX cards, phone cards, toiletries, snack foods, short-wave radios, computer video games, DVD's, ready-mix meals, religious goods, sweat suits for wounded troops in hospitals, athletic equipment, Christmas gifts... The list goes on and on, and it will continue to grow as Father John and other chaplains request our help in their missions of service to the troops.

    The work of ComPadres is entirely made possible by our many generous donors who recognize the importance of supporting our troops by assisting the chaplains who serve them. Our donors include individuals, student bodies in many schools across Chicagoland and elsewhere, church groups from around the U.S., and even corporate fundraisers. We have gratefully highlighted a few of our donor groups on this site, but, for the most part, the donors and their contributions are anonymous... generous... and powerful.

    We are very thankful for the support of so many who continue to make this work possible.



    Al Mishura School
    .... from Chaplain John Barkemeyer

    Everyone realizes that a partnership between Iraqis and American forces is the only way to bring about peace in Iraq. Most often, this takes place not on a regional scale but on the most local of levels. Relationships and even friendships have formed where only months ago mistrust and even hatred festered. Recently, I collected school supplies from Compadres members back in the States. We went to a local school in Al Mishura just outside our Forward Operating Base. A couple months earlier, I asked the headmaster what the school children could use. He told us they would love to have backpacks. I dropped an email to the Compadres and within a month we had hundreds of backpacks. When you see the smiles on the kids faces, you know their joy is genuine and the groundwork has been laid for what I hope will be years of fruitful cooperation.
    Enjoy the movie clip!
     




    At this time of year, a time of new beginnings and change, we want to send out a special salute to our Compadres KIDS. All throughout Chicagoland, they raise needed funds at the schools they attend, are part of scout troops, man hot dog stands, and do a myriad of things to support the Compadres effort. So VIVA Compadres KIDS. Our group effectively began with your support and you continue to provide a strong base for our operations. More importantly, you are making your own meaningful statement. See the schools that were part of our Fall '07 Hearts From Home effort here.





    Fr. John Barkemeyer, former pastor of St. Cajetan Parish, with St. Rita students who are members of St. Cajetan Parish.
    (For the story, click here)

    Troop 11 of Saint Francis Xavier Church in Wilmette, Illinois, days after their "bike ride."
    (For the story, click here)

    Students at Saint James School, Arlington Heights, Illinois, on "Make A Difference Day"





    The Road To Hell  





    Hardware & Humor Don't Mix


    To SEE Father John on Chicago's "Channel 5 City Desk" with Mary Ann Ahern (12.23.07), click here --> Part 1, Part 2


    To HEAR Father John's interview on NPR's FRESH AIR (11.14.07), click here


    To READ the CHICAGO TRIBUNE article (5.20.07), click here


    To HEAR Father John in his own words (5.20.07), click here


    Xbox Thank-you Notes from Iraq (05.16.07) (for photos, click here)

    When Chaplain John Barkemeyer arrived in Ramadi and first started visiting the troops at the many small and primitive Combat Ouposts (or COP's) where soldiers and Marines are deployed for days, even weeks at a time, he observed in the troops a very difficult mix of tension from the dangerous missions and security details, and boredom during the downtime.

    Fr. John asked the troops what would really help boost morale, alleviate boredom, restore some normalcy to life, and improve alertness. And they said… "Xboxes!" Xboxes, as you may know, are very popular video consoles and games from Microsoft. They don't come cheap… figure about $500 for each one we send. But it's what these deployed troops in the tense Combat Outposts most wanted.

    So... in addition to large amounts of toiletries, snacks, religious goods, phone cards, PX cards, sporting goods, and much more… the ComPadres have sent sets of Xboxes and games - nine so far! - for the troops stationed in some of the many COP's around Ramadi and elsewhere in Al Anbar province.

    Recently, ComPadres received these notes of thanks from the troops. We can all share in the pride and gratification that comes with having provided some much needed relief for the troops, and having conveyed to them in one more unique way how important they are to us, and how present in our thoughts and prayers!

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


    ComPadres,
    Thank you so much for your generous gift, it really means a lot to me and my soldiers. I am the platoon leader of the Woodchucks. Since we moved from south central Ramadi to the Jazeera region, my men have had a lot more time on their hands. Many of them have had trouble adjusting to the new sector because of boredom. Not having every second of every day filled with missions makes time go by very slowly. Many of the men sit inside their rooms waiting for their guard shifts for hours at a time. Once we set up the Xbox 360, everyone came back out! I find myself looking back and wondering why we didn't get these issued to us for entertainment. It is very good to see all the soldiers out laughing and yelling while they play games. Anything that makes home feel a little closer is a good thing and I truly thank you for helping us. Keep us in your prayers and know that my men are working very hard!
    Speed and Power,
    Nick Wedbush

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


    April 25, 2007
    Dear Friend,
    Thank you so much for supporting us with the Xbox! It really means a lot to us out here at Combat Outpost Anvil. It will never cease to amaze me how things find their way out to this small outpost. At times it feels like we are all but forgotten by everyone else. It feels like we are out of sight and out of mind to many others, but when we receive things from people like you it makes a big difference to us spiritually. Our morale goes up and it makes these deployments that much better. Once again, thank you. Your support and kindness will always be cherished and never forgotten.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


    25 April 2007
    Dear ComPadres,
    Thank you for the Xbox and games. The platoon will enjoy playing it. And it will keep us entertained on days when movies won't cut it.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


    Dear ComPadres,
    Thank you very much for your kindness. Your support is immeasurable to the members of my platoon.
    My name is Michael McDaniel. I am a SFC in the U.S. Army and I am Platoon Sergeant of a Scout Platoon - the best Scout Platoon in all of Iraq! It is because of your support that we are able to continue to win the war on terrorism. The gift you sent my platoon will provide hours of entertainment and relaxation for my men. Once again thank you for your prayers and support.
    Michael McDaniel
    SFC, U.S. Army
    Firebase Dragon


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    How are you doing, ComPadres? Just writing to tell you thank you for the Xbox 360. It really to get your mind away from here. It is nice to know we are thought of by the American people and supported.

    A little about me. My name is PFC Steven Rubacalva. I am from Fresno CA. I have a loving wife and a two year old son and my wife is five months pregnant. I turned 21 on March 23rd on which we were doing an SKT ("sniper kill team"). That will be a great memory of my 21st, but enough about me. You guys take care.
    Sincerely,
    Steve Rubacalva


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    Dear Friends,
    Thank you so much for the Xbox. It's been a big hit around here. It means a lot that someone is thinking of us. Anything to help us escape the reality of being away from home so long is much appreciated. Thanks for your support.
    Sincerely,
    SPC Paul Gardner, aka Catfish 6


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    Dear Sir or Miss,
    I wish I knew who you were so I could do this right. But thank you for your great gift. It did more than you could think. We all know you took time and money to make our lives better, we all greatly appreciate it. And thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
    With love and thanks,
    PFC Juarez, Robert Allen


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    Dear Supporter,
    Thank you so much for the X-box 360. It is greatly appreciated! I enjoy knowing that people back home think about us and send us such nice gifts. This is a huge gift. It helps us to pass the time and is a morale booster. Again, I thank you.
    Sincerely,
    Petro


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    Dear Friends,
    Hello. My name is John Steltzner and I wish to thank you for getting the Xbox for us soldiers. Whenever our mission or guard duty is finished there is mostly someone playing games throughout the day. Something to keep them busy or times of relaxing from a long shift of security watch.
    I want to thank you again for the Xbox even though I am really terrible at playing games but I really do try. Again thank you very much.
    John Steltzner


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    Dear Friends,
    Thank you for the X-box 360.We use it daily. It has improved morale and made things a little better around here. The only problem now is kicking somebody off so you can use it (laugh out loud!). Thanks again, though, we really do appreciate it, it's a great gift and a lot of fun.
    Sincerely,
    Graydon Nangle


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    ComPadres,
    Hi! Writing to say thank you for the Xbox. It helps pass the time. It's great to have and fun to play. It's nice to know that people care about what we do.
    Private Gongo


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    Dear ComPadres,
    Thank you very much for the X-box 360. It is nice to know that there are Americans that are still thinking of us here in Iraq,
    Once again I really appreciate your generosity and I will see to it that it will get much use.
    SSG Dawson
    Ramadi, Iraq


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    Dear ComPadres,
    Thank you very much for the gift of the Xbox. I appreciate your generosity and thoughtfulness. When we have downtime, there isn't a whole to do here, so the Xbox will see plenty of use. Thanks again.
    Sincerely,
    PFC McDonald, Benjamin




    A Visit With the Marines (4.25.07)

    I had an interesting day today. I went out with the 2/5 Marines for the first time to say mass at 5 of their 8 combat outposts. It was the first time they were able to get to mass in 6 weeks. The photo with me in my vestments is one picture (here), but I thought you'd get a kick out of the picture of the "water" (here). It of course is not water but raw sewage and it all collects in front of one of the combat outposts. It is so deep it comes up to the door handles on the HUMVEE, about 3-4 feet. Literally driving through 3-4 feet of sewage with it washing over the windshield was a trip. So was the "aroma."

    For the past five weeks the Marines have been living in this building (here), they have been sleeping on concrete floors because there isn't any bedding. I tried to get them mattresses and they will come in about 3 months, so in the meantime I'm getting them hooked up with cots and lumber. Since these poor guys are sleeping on the floor next to a cesspool, I figured if anybody in Iraq deserved an Xbox, it was them, so I sent them back with one, much to the smiles and grins of the Marines. The upshot of it all is that by being able to give them this stuff, not only do they get some rare recreational opportunities but now, when I come by in the future to say mass, you know they will do everything they can to make sure guys are able to attend, i.e., swapping them off tower duty, etc. So, once again, in many strange and unexpected ways, the Compadres have come through.

    M&Ms to the Rescue (4.19.07)

    I've been working with a soldier most of the day to help resolve some family issues. He weighs 125 lbs. down from a whopping 145lbs. I went to the chow hall with him to make sure he was eating something. We got together again tonight and before he left my office I asked him if he liked M&Ms.

    A big smile crept across his face and he said, "With peanuts?"

    "Yep," I said. "With peanuts."

    I gave him the whole bag and he happily slinked off to the barracks. It was nice to have it on hand to be able to give to a good kid.

    It's one of those things about which some might say, "No big deal," but it was a big deal.

    Explosion on Good Friday (4.6.07)

    This just happened about 2 hours ago. I can't believe it is already in the newspaper. I was leading the Good Friday worship service at a camp near the place I live and during the homily our makeshift church/dining room shook with a large explosion. There were about 10 of us there. We looked at each other for a few seconds with a dumb "what should we do now" look on our faces and then we decided to go on. A minute later a soldier came in and told us to get our gas (protective) masks on because it was a chlorine suicide vehicle borne improvised explosive device. Of course he didn't say all that he just told us it was an SVBED with chlorine. That means some guy in a car packed with explosives and chlorine just killed himself as he rammed it into something or someone. We walked ourside our hut and saw a large white plume of "smoke" right next to us but luckily (for us) the wind was blowing in another direction. (with regular VBEDs you have a dark black smoke that rises, chlorine VBEDs have a white or almost green cloud that forms) There was a lot of gun fire but that usually means the Iraqi police or Army is letting off steam by shooting whatever they are near. We let the situation die down for a few minutes and then went back and picked up the Good Friday service almost where we left off. I told the guys I wasn't going to continue with the homily and we'd just go directly into the general intercessions. They didn't seem to mind. The one lieutenant who runs the security in the area came in late, just a minute or two before we concluded. I told him that from now on, his only job was to make sure our Church services are not interrupted by SVBEDs anymore. He assured me he was going to issue a sternly worded memo to the insurgents in the area letting them know how rudely they behaved. I go back there tomorrow morning for Easter Sunday (Saturday) services. I'm hoping the young Lieutenant's memo does the job!

    A Surprise for the Soldiers (3.8.07)

    A little ComPadres story. I was this afternoon I was walking down of of the main roads of the Camp. Off to the side I see about 25 Marines sleeping in the dirt. I walked over to kid the couple that were awake about these guys sleeping on the job. They said the group had just gotten in from one of the outposts. They get to come on one day a month to take a shower and shop at the PX. Of course I felt like a heel ribbing them knowing this was their "day off." I happened to have a bunch of PX gift certificates on me (courtesy as you know of the ComPadres). I passed them out and they acted like they won the lottery. I also asked what the living conditions were at their outpost, typically abysmal as you can imagine. I asked how they relax after a shift. They said there really isn't much for them to do so I told them I just may be able to hook them up with a little video entertainment! Of course they went out of their minds with the idea they could play each other with the Xbox Halo II game. It was really cute.

    I'm going to divert one of the Xboxes that has been sent my way to them. They recently had one of their guys killed on the rooftop of their outpost so they could use a break. Anyway, I included a picture of these guys (here). Just thought you'd like to see who's benefitting from what you are doing. From them and me to you, THANKS!

    Help From Home (3.3.07)

    The generousity of the ComPadres community has been spectacular. In just the past month we have been able to touch the lives of our soldiers and Marines here at Camp Ramadi, Iraq in many new ways.

    We have begun a reading program for soldiers with young children. ComPadre members have sent us children's books and a video camera. Now soldiers can read a book or two to their kid(s) and we mail it to them on a DVD. This helps the children remember what their their mom or dad looks like and sounds like. Hopefully, it will make this time of separation less stressful. I have to tell you, it is cute to watch these hardened soldiers and Marines read children's books.

    Soon we will be receiving video consoles from the Compadres. Many of our soldiers and Marines are living off the camp, right in the middle of a very hostile city. Most receive fire everyday. The conditions are primitive as they don't even have running water. Since they do have electrical generators they will be able to play video games on their down time. In my opinion, any way to help these guys relax and unwind is hugely important.

    Another way we support our soldiers and Marines is through the distribution of gift certificates to our PX (which is like a 7-Eleven) and phone cards which enable them to call home for free. These are always appreciated and are a great way to improve morale.

    I cannot stress how important the work of the ComPadres has been. The needs are far greater than they were in my last deployment. We are in the heart of the "Al Queda in Iraq" stronghold here in the capital of the Al Anbar province. The support and prayers we receive from our friends back home makes all the difference.

    In Ramadi (2.13.07)

    I've been in Ramadi, the capital of the Al Anbar province for about three weeks now. I am amazed at the violence and death that occurs almost every day. The biggest threat we face are IEDs (improvised explosive devices) or roadside bombs. I have seen huge vehicles torn in two by these massive explosions, but much worse is the condition of the soldiers or Marines riding in the vehicles. Life here is pretty tough. We don't get much news coverage because almost all of the media is located in Baghdad. Rarely does a reporter venture out to this part of the country.

    The living conditions on the main camps is pretty good, at least compared to life in the many Combat Outposts. They are like mini "forts" located in the most violent parts of the city and countryside. They have no running water, heat or air conditioning. Meals come by way of plastic pouches and news from home is non existent while stationed at the outposts. These soldiers and Marines rotate back to one of the main camps every so often. A cot, a shower, toilet facilities, email access and phones seem like fabulous luxuries.

    I am hoping with the ComPadres help, we can continue to make life a little better for soldiers and Marines. We are in the midst refurbishing a gym so they can work out and relieve some stress. Hopefully, some of the ComPadres funds can allow us to purchase some equipment. Little things mean a lot here. Life is pretty basic, even bare bones. Yet I rarely hear the men and women in uniform complain. I take a great deal of pride in these very special people.

    Returning to Iraq (1.2.07)

    In just a few days we return to Iraq. This will be my second deployment. I have mixed feelings about returning. The unit I am with is top notch. I am in the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division. It is the most deployed division in the Army. I am impressed with the quality of soldiers I will be deployed with. At the same time I also experience a sense of dread because I know year is a long, long time.

    We will be stationed in the Al Anbar Province, known as "the wild west" of Iraq. Each of us have been warned to expect "primitive" living conditions. For some in our group, this will be their third trip. Many, however, are fresh out of training and are new to this. It will be an interesting combination of combat veterans and fresh faces.

    I am grateful to know that the ComPadres will be there to help our soldiers. Little unexpected things chaplains can do for soldiers often go a long way in improving morale. Having been there before, I largely know what to expect and for this I am grateful. But I also know a year is a long, long time.

    Father John Describes His Mission:

    I am currently serving as an Army Chaplain at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In this assignment, I am working with soldiers who are either in the process of deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan, or returning from those deployments.

    I recently received word that I will be transferring to Ft. Stewart Georgia to join the 3rd ID, or Third Infantry Division. They are scheduled to deploy to Iraq around the first of the year. That means I'll be returning to Iraq, presumably for another year-long deployment.

    A great gift to deployed soldiers is the generosity that filters through the ComPadres. Here's just a few typical examples.
    • The ComPadres have sent countless prayer cards, crosses, crucifixes, and other religious goods to be given to the troops - reinforcing religion and faith in extremely difficult settings.
    • During my last deployment, we were able to set up a "coffee house" for the soldiers (more on that below) that was a tremendous morale booster in a difficult and hostile environment.
    • We were also able to surprise many soldiers with gifts of phone cards with which to call home... and with PX certificates (the "PX" is a small store on the base which sells everything from potato chips to rifle cleaning materials), so these gifts enable the soldiers to buy whatever they feel they most need, right at that time.

    I have also seen the ComPadres quickly and efficiently address unusual, compelling needs that were brought to their attention.
    • We learned that wounded troops from Afghanistan and Iraq were being treated at Landstuhl Air Force hospital in Germany, and that many had only hospital gowns to wear (Ever worn one of those?), and flip-flops for their feet. ComPadres immediately sent the chaplains at Landstuhl 30 sweat suits for the injured troops and $2,000 to buy additional clothes, toiletries, writing materials, and whatever else would help to improve the troops' morale, restore their dignity and support their recovery .
    • When a U.S. Army brigade near Baghdad, nearing the end of its deployment and preparing to return home, had its deployment extended for another four months, the chaplain requested phone cards so his soldiers could at least call home and maintain important family connections. ComPadres sent $1,500 in specially discounted military phone cards for the chaplain to give to his troops.

    As I start to plan for my next deployment I have a few ideas that can help take some of the strain off soldiers with the help of the ComPadres.
    • High on my priority list is audio-visual equipment so that we can offer nightly movies, giving the guys and gals a chance to unwind after missions and alleviate the inevitable boredom of life in the desert.
    • If there is space available, I'd like to open another coffee house to give soldiers a place to relax and get connected to one another. Fostering a sense of community in a tense combat zone is an important way to help our people in uniform stay grounded.
    • I also hope to be able to show soldiers that people back home care for them by again being able to offer them phone cards to call home, and PX gift certificates.

    Every deployment is different and I'm sure there will be all sorts of additional opportunities to serve soldiers. With the support of the ComPadres, I'm confident we'll make the lives of a lot of soldiers in Iraq just a little bit better!




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