Alaska-Fairbanks student assists wounded warriors

Freshman's effort hopes to provide returning-home GIs with basics.

Fairbanks Daily News-MinerSeptember 4, 2012 

FAIRBANKS -- Stacey Garbett's experience in interior design is pretty modest -- a new shower curtain here, a throw pillow there. But her efforts have made a big difference for a handful of Fort Wainwright soldiers.

The 18-year-old University of Alaska Fairbanks freshman helped turn a pair of suites on post this summer into more comfortable accommodations for wounded soldiers returning home. The effort, which started as a Girl Scout project, has won praise from soldiers and earned her a scholarship from a statewide program that recognizes outstanding youths.

Garbett's parents both work at Fort Wainwright, which has given her a chance to see the challenges faced by wounded veterans.

Her mother, Ruth, is a nurse case worker for B Company Wound Transition Battalion, where soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan make their first stop back on post

"They're all like big brothers for me," Stacey said.

But seeing the temporary barracks those soldiers came back to was a surprise. The housing is spacious and clean but almost completely unstocked. Few supplies, no food items and just basic furnishings are provided.

"I just noticed that the rooms were so empty," she told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. "They have a bed, a cabinet and a pillow."

Garbett, who was a Lathrop High School senior when the project began, thought something could be done to help. She knew a few added details -- extra bathroom supplies or an extra pillow on the bed -- could make a big difference for a soldier coming back to unfamiliar surroundings.

"She's seen their struggles and seen their needs; seen how hard it can be," Ruth Garbett said.

Adding a few food items could also make an important difference, she thought. Through her mother's job, Stacey has seen soldiers struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder sometimes struggle just going to a busy store to buy groceries. Instead they'll often scrounge whatever they can find from a vending machine, Stacey said.

With Stacey's on-post connections through Ruth and her father, Robert, she got permission to upgrade the suites, which include four bedrooms, four bathrooms, two kitchens and two living rooms. Ruth Garbett helped by approaching local businesses to help sponsor the effort, which Stacey dubbed the "Home for Hero" project.

Cathy Stoltz, the owner of By Design Decor, helped Stacey develop a basic plan for upgrading the rooms. The final result isn't a dazzling makeover, she said, but a big improvement over the blank slates the rooms started as.

"I was really impressed with her organizational skill and her ability to kind of take the ball and run with it," Stoltz said. "She needed a little help, but when she got going, she really did it."

Ruth Garbett said it's part of a culture of service her daughter grew up with. Stacey previously worked on a project to supply blankets for a women's shelter, and is in the final stages of earning the Gold Award -- the equivalent of an Eagle Scout for Girl Scouts.

Garbett, who is studying at UAF to become an elementary school teacher, is also starting a job helping out after school at Hunter Elementary.

"Doing community service is ingrained in Girl Scouting," Ruth said. "It helped her be able to do such a large project."

Stacey's efforts helped her become one of six young Alaskans given a $1,500 scholarship as part of the "Summer of Heroes" program, a partnership between Alaska Communications and the Boys and Girls Club of Alaska to recognize outstanding youth.

Stacey said the project has been particularly satisfying, however, because she's been able to witness the benefits of a few small changes. She's hopeful they can be expanded to other suites for wounded soldiers.

"I've had a couple soldiers talk to my parents about it," Garbett said. "It's made a big difference -- they're so happy with it."

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