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Reporting for duty: Local quilters delivering gifts to soldiers

Thirty-two quilters from Otter Tail County Quilts of Valor head off to Texas on Saturday to de-liver more than 1,000 handmade quilts to injured soldiers based in Fort Hood and Fort Sam Houston.

How the trips began

In years past, the quilts were shipped to various forts around the United States. One day last January, a captain from Fort Knox, Ky., called Jenny Caughey, a member of the local Quilts of Valor chapter, to thank her and her group for the recent shipment of quilts.

Then he made a second request. He asked that next time they make a donation, they hand deliver the quilts.

"The captain told me that he really wished we could see the impact the quilts have on soldiers and families," Caughey said.

She accepted the invitation and agreed to take 400 quilts in May. From January to May, three lo-cal chapters of Quilts of Valor in the county made 611 quilts and delivered them to Fort Knox.

When they got to Fort Knox, Ky. they unloaded the quilts and set them up on picnic tables. Slowly the soldiers would browse through the quilts, each picking out one. The quilters took this opportunity to engage in many conversations with the soldiers. Many quilters found connections from people and places in the Otter Tail County area that some of the soldiers knew.

Caughey relayed a memorable conversation, when one young man kept thanking her; she told him that while the quilters appreciate his thankfulness, the quilts are a way for them to show their appreciation for everything the soldiers do.

As Caughey remembers, this young man continued on and said, "We get many gifts, but you took the time to come and spend time with us, and that's priceless."

News spread of the bus full of handmade quilts, and soon other military forts were requesting trips. Officials from Fort Sam Houston invited the Quilts of Valor group to hand deliver quilts to them in the fall.

"I thought the girls would shoot me when I agreed to make 1,000 quilts by October," Caughey said with a laugh, "but I knew they could do it."

Three local chapters of the Quilts of Valor contributed to the goal: One based out of Perham, an-other at St James Church in Maine Township and the Fergus Falls group. Alexandria, Brainerd, and Hastings chapters also contributed quilts.

"Our goal is that every wounded soldier from Iraq and Afghanistan will be covered with a handmade quilt," Caughey said.

This could become a daunting task; however, Caughey said, "We just make a difference where we can."

Each quilt has a small label with the first name of the person who quilted it, the first name of the person who pieced it and the name of the town.

"We want soldiers to know that people in tiny little towns care about them without presumption of acknowledgement or thank you," Caughey said.

Sometimes the story of the quilt does come back to them. Caughey said she recently got a phone call from the radio host of Heroes in Heartland in Fargo asking for an interview. He had a personal experience with Quilts of Valor. He was an Iraq War veteran who lost his sight with a roadside bomb. He received a quilt a couple of years ago in a military hospital in South Carolina. Because of the label, Caughey knew that it was from a local group.

The upcoming trip

On Saturday at 7 a.m. an Anderson coach bus, packed with more than 1,000 quilts and 32 quilters will head to Texas. First stop will be Fort Hood near Waco, TX to deliver 300 quilts. Then continue the trip to Fort Sam Houston near San Antonia to deliver the remaining 700 quilts.

The public is invited to the send off, bright and early Saturday morning on Main Street in Under-wood. There will be a small ceremony where the quilts will be blessed before their long journey.

A video crew from Fons and Porter Love of Quilting show will be traveling with the quilters to capture the memories. In March, the show will be broadcasting nationwide on National Public Television.

Motorcycle organizations Patriot Guard and Sons of Legion Riders will be escorting the quilts from Underwood to Texas. Along the way, American Legions will host them for meals and conversations.

Many area businesses and individual support contribute to the local chapters of Quilts of Valor. American Legion and Lions Club of Underwood provided the coach bus and helped with many accommodations.