06/05/06 — Pillowcases help families of SJAFB airmen connect

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Pillowcases help families of SJAFB airmen connect

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on June 5, 2006 1:51 PM

Every night for the past few months, before Sean and Shannon Madsen fell asleep, they kissed and hugged their mother -- even though she was on the other side of the world.

Thanks to the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Airman and Family Readiness Center's Readiness Emergency Sleeping Tool (REST) program, hundreds of children, parents, spouses -- even the deployed themselves -- sleep a little easier during long months spent apart.

The program, with the help of an iron-on photograph and personalized message, transforms an ordinary pillowcase into a memory.

Lt. Col. Karen Madsen wrapped her pillow in a "special time," a photograph from her days as Shannon, 7, and Sean's, 5, soccer coach. Every night before she went to sleep, she kissed the children and thought about Shannon's first goal.

"We had so much fun with it," she said. "I was Coach Mommy."

Taking that memory overseas helped calm lonely nights on base.

"Every night I kissed my kids. When I would talk to them on the phone, I got to look at their picture," Mrs. Madsen said. "It was kind of like being there. And the picture was taken in North Carolina. There were trees and grass, which we didn't have over there."

While a picture with her son and daughter comforted her overseas, both children had the same pillowcases back home -- a message reading "Mommy Loves You" printed underneath the photo.

"It was important for them to have something they could hug and say goodnight to," Mrs. Madsen said. "When you're dealing with little kids, being able to see Mommy is important."

In a simple pillowcase, Shannon and Sean also had a protector, she added.

"They've got Mom to keep the bad dreams away," she said.

The REST program provides one free pillowcase to each deploying airman. Those who want additional prints bring in extra pillowcases.

Tech. Sgt. Cindy Hartsfield said the program is carried out entirely through donated materials. During the last round of deployments, more than 700 airmen left base, leaving a shortage of pillowcases back home.

She estimated that more than 1,000 pillowcases have been made this year and hopes members of the community will donate to the cause -- to help the deployed and their families cope with those months apart.

"Every little bit helps," she said.

Those interested in making donations to the REST program can contact Tech. Sgt. Hartsfield or others at the Airman and Family Readiness Center at 919-722-1123.