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Soldier and mother help families adopt a soldier
By Teresa Herriman, The Courier-Herald
Devin Lemco and his mother, Valerie, both qualify as hometown heroes.
Devin, a soldier in the 84th Engineering Battalion stationed in Balad, Iraq, saw the effect receiving packages from home has on his fellow soldiers. He also noticed some of the men and women didn't get much in the way of packages and mail from home. So he began giving his mom the names of those soldiers.
"He sees people with a need and he knows mom will help," Valerie said.
Since military personnel can only receive mail addressed directly to them, Devin instructed his mom to use his name to send packages to his fellow soldiers.
One of the first soldiers Valerie Lemco sent a package to was a single dad. Devin asked his mother to send two tape players and a Clifford book so the young soldier could read the story to his son. Lemco obliged, searching out a tape player the man's young son could operate easily, so the 3-year old boy could listen to his dad's voice whenever he wished.
As more names arrived, Lemco enlisted her other children - Drew, age 18, Dane, 13 and Destiny, 10 - to help write letters.
Eventually, she began matching soldiers with friends and family who wanted to help.
So far, she has the names of 45 soldiers. More than 20 of those have already been "adopted."
She finds people are grateful for the opportunity to do something meaningful for the men and women so far from home. As word has spread of the informal "adopt a soldier" program, more people have come forward.
The names of soldiers in need keep coming too.
"There's never a time (Devin) doesn't call and tell me, mom, pray for so-and-so, or mom, send a package," she said.
To help handle the prayer side of things, Lemco has started a prayer chain through her church, Lake Tapps Christian Church.
Lemco said her son has an extraordinary capacity for love and understanding.
"I think the soldier feel comfortable with him. He's a great kid," she explained.
Two weeks ago, Devin's platoon was attacked. One soldier was killed and two others were seriously injured. Lemco mobilized her congregation to sign cards for the families and the platoon.
"What scares me is it could be my son," she said. But coordinating the letters, packages and prayers gives her a direction and focus, she said.
Lemco is expanding her operations. She is trying to start a program in the schools to send elementary student's artwork to soldiers in Iraq. She is hoping that by making a direct connection, the students will learn more about the efforts of United States soldiers.
Lemco has already visited a local daycare to have the kids there draw pictures, mostly flags, to include in the letters.
"I want these kids to grow up with the feeling these are their heroes," she said.
Despite three children to care for and a job as an agent at Pro Travel, Lemco spends hours fielding hundreds of emails from people who want more information.
Some of the recent emails range from a 69 year old retired mom to a 14-year-old who hopes to join the service one day.
"I'm just blown away," she said.
To participate in the program, e-mail Lemco at firstname.lastname@example.org
Teresa Herriman can be reached at email@example.com