SOUTHERN ILLINOIS - When the 150 soldiers of Charlie Company representing several different National Guard units from the area attended a deployment ceremony in Mount Vernon earlier this month, they were presented with a special personal gift.
Each soldier, who didn't already have one, received a camouflaged bandana with Psalm 91, better known as "The Soldier's Prayer," inscribed on it.
The bandanas were delivered to the Mount Vernon armory and Capt. Jeremiah Aeschleman of Herrin, company commander, by Steve Smith of Salem. Smith's 20-year-old son, Steven, was among the soldiers deployed.
The elder Smith is an elementary school teacher as is his wife, Janet. He said he was walking down the hallway at school one day when a colleague asked him if he had read a Guidepost magazine article telling about a camouflaged bandana which had Psalm 91 printed on it.
Smith got on the Internet and tracked down the Support Our American Troops Web site - www.letssoar together.org - and found bandanas for sale at $5 each, which he said, told of God's love, strength, presence and guidance in horrible times, such as war.
Smith then sent a check to SOAR to cover the cost of three bandanas, plus a little extra as a donation to the organization. He gave one bandana to his son, one to his son's friend, Nick, and kept one for he and his wife.
Not long thereafter, Smith said he received a phone call from Marqueita "Peg" Luciani, a SOAR volunteer, who asked him if his son and his son's friend were traveling alone, or if their unit in Salem was being deployed.
Smith said 47 troops from Salem were being sent to Iraq. Luciani said she would send enough bandanas for all of the troops free of charge.
"Peg told me over and over again that it wasn't the bandana that was important, but the inscription on it," Smith said. "She said SOAR is dedicated to seeing that soldiers take the word of God along with them to this war."
When asked how she would get the bandanas to him, Luciani asked Smith if he lived anywhere near Effingham. Smith explained that it was only a 40-minute drive from his home. Luciani said her son, who is a truck driver, was going to make a rare trip to Illinois and that he had a shipment to make at Effingham.
"What are the odds of that happening? I knew this connection was meant to be," Smith said. "I knew then that God was truly blessing our sons who were leaving from this little spot-on-the-map town of Salem."
Smith said he later called Luciani back and told her that his son's battalion was linked with the Mount Vernon Guard unit and that there were approximately 40 soldiers in the unit.
"I left it to her if she wanted each of them to have a Scripture bandana as well," Smith said. "She immediately responded and sent another package of bandanas."
As it turns out, Smith said, the number of bandanas sent (38) was the exact number of troops in the unit.
Smith said he was welcomed with open arms by officers at the Mount Vernon armory when he asked if he could pass out the bandanas as gifts to each of the soldiers. Smith said he was told that officers had searched for the bandanas locally, but had not found any.
After meeting Aeschleman, Smith said he was informed that 85 more men were connecting to Charlie Company as the 2nd Battalion, 123rd Field Artillery, and that it would be great if all could be supplied with bandanas.
Smith contacted Luciani again, and after explaining the situation, she sent 85 more - again free of charge.
"That just goes to show you there are people out there who really care about others," Smith said. "It was important to Peg that the Scripture was in the hands of all the soldiers for them to carry with them."
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