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New program will allow students to adopt soldiers

Nov. 11, 2005

By KATE MCCLENDON and MANDY SMITH, assistant city editor and reporter

While soldiers in Iraq deal with 140-degree heat, dust storms, sand fleas and the ongoing possibility of violence, student government members are hoping Baylor students can take soldiers' minds off these problems.

Student government members launched on Thursday the Baylor Adopts program, which will pair Baylor organizations and students with Fort Hood soldiers.

Fort Hood Army Capt. Tony Rodriguez and Staff Sgt. Ray Blevins emphasized the value of having Baylor students support military halfway across the world during a program Thursday night in Bennett Auditorium.

"E-mails and letters are a great way to give them a morale booster and let them know that we're thinking of them here in Waco while they're in Iraq," said Natalie Cook, a Katy senior and Student Congress public relations chairwoman.

Student government members said they believe reaching out is worth the effort.

"As a Christian university, I believe Baylor has a duty to reach out to soldiers and to let them know that we care and to show the love of Christ," said Allan Marshall, a Cuny junior ad representative for College of Arts and Sciences.

Organizations and individuals can pay a $20 fee to adopt a soldier based out of Fort Hood. Once the soldier is adopted, organization members can send e-mails to the soldiers or mail them letters and packages.

"You're basically committing to e-mail the person you adopt," said Mark Laymon, student body president and Richardson junior.

"If you know the person specifically, you can mail them things," Laymon said.

Student government members are also holding a campus-wide drive to collect items to send to the soldiers, Laymon said.

Boxes will be in residence halls and at the Bill Daniel Student Center.

T-shirts also will be sold and all proceeds will benefit the soldiers, Marshall said.

Each shirt will have "Baylor Adopts" printed on the front and a picture of all 96 members of the Fort Hood Bravo Company underneath.

"There are some soldiers who are our age in harm's way and we need to extend a hand of compassion to them," Marshall said.

Rodriguez, a civil military officer who helped rebuild clinics, police stations and schools, spoke about the loneliness soldiers often feel while on duty in Iraq.

"A lot of these soldiers are 18-,

19-, 20-year-olds. About three-quarters of our battery is brand-new soldiers, right out of high school," Rodriguez.

"It raises stress levels if they don't have anything coming to them," Rodriguez said. Blevins said the soldiers continuously deal with high levels of stress when driving through Iraqi towns and when relaxing at their tent, worried about violence breaking out at any time.

"There are still American soldiers killed. It's a dangerous job. ...Basically we're teaching the Iraqis to become their own army and police force so they can secure their own country so they won't need us," Blevins said.

"(Most of them) like that, we took Saddam Hussein out of power and are trying to make them into a democracy," he said. Blevins said letters, e-mails and packages are a good way to keep soldiers' spirits up.

"What we need are distractors, something to take us away, like a letter," Blevins said. "Something to let us know what's going on, but not, 'how are you?' and 'have you killed anyone?'"

Many find comfort in contact with the outside world because they rarely have it, Blevins said.

"The greatest feeling is to go to that place where you get your mail and see a letter or a package," Rodriguez said.

"But some soldiers don't get anything," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez and Blevins both said they are excited about the contact soldiers will have with Baylor students through the program.

"I've been there and I'm really hoping this will work out for Baylor," Rodriguez said.

Students and organizations can sign up to adopt a soldier in the Bill Daniel Student Center in the Student Government office.