07/03/06 — All her heroes -- wife makes sure no serviceman forgotten

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All her heroes -- wife makes sure no serviceman forgotten

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on July 3, 2006 1:53 PM

Last year, Emily Mather sent more than 300 birthday cards to men overseas -- most of whom she has never met.

She never forgets her friends, she said.

A little more than two years ago, Emily was inspired by her mother to do something more than simply talk about patriotism and supporting American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When family friend Staff Sgt. Matt Maupin was ambushed and captured in Iraq in April 2004, the women knew they had to do something to bring hope back to their community.

Her mother printed pictures, posters and stickers bearing Maupin's picture and the phrase "Lighting the Way Home." Emily took a different approach -- she began "adopting" deployed American troops.

"I just asked what I could do to help," she said.

The story of Emily's love for and support of men she didn't know began with a group of 64, the Army's Colt Platoon.

"When I started doing it, I was married to a civilian," she said. "He couldn't understand why I was e-mailing all these random people I didn't even know, but they need it."

Now, she is married to an airman, Staff Sgt. Michael Mather. They have been married for a year. Recently deployed, he is one of the names on her mailing list.

Since she began the project two years ago, e-mails and letters soon became care packages, and the group of 64 grew to more than 100. Then, a television news program got wind of her generosity.

"Before I knew it, I had people all over the country packing boxes and sending them to me," Emily said.

Her living room quickly became a storage area for dozens of packages stacked to the ceiling, the post office was a "home away from home."

Through it all, across town in the photo lab at Sam's Club was her mother -- printing pictures of Staff Sgt. Maupin. The soldier remains in captivity -- and his plight is always on Emily and her family's minds.

"She's the reason I started doing all of this," Emily said. "And I guess I should say Matt is, too."

What started as a hobby she worked on in between her full-time job and duties as a mom has become her nine to five. And it really is a labor of love, she said.

"It's the gratification you get from making someone's day," Emily said. "They have a lot of supporters at home, but not enough."

Even though she is now an Air Force wife, Emily said her adopted troops cover the gamut -- Navy, Army, Air Force and Marines.

"My adoptees are all the guys who are over there," she said. "I don't discriminate."

In fact, before she and her husband came to Seymour in December, she had only adopted one airman, a total which has now surpassed 150.

Emily's letters and packages have become legend on bases in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and her chocolate chip cookies are famous. In the past two weeks, she has baked, packed and shipped more than 1,000.

The cookies are a hot item and are often requested by the men who write to their friend at Seymour. Emily said she loves the requests and tries to send anything the men may ask for.

"I tell them 'don't be proud. Don't be afraid to ask,'" she said.

But sometimes the gifts that aren't requested are the ones that mean the most.

Emily recalled a Marine, one of her "children" overseas, sending her a letter about his hometown in Colorado. He was homesick -- so much so that he missed the trees.

When she finished reading the letter she turned to her family's Christmas tree and had an idea. In a snip, she clipped off one of its branches, put it in a box and sent it, with love, overseas.

"He told me that when he got the package the fragrance was so strong he didn't know what it was," Emily said. "He opened it and said it was the best Christmas gift he has ever gotten."

The men don't forget about her generosity. Sometimes, they return the favor, sending her gifts from the countries in which they are deployed. A hand-carved marble tea set from Baghdad, a tapestry from Camp Victory, a military teddy bear and small carved camels are among the treasures she keeps displayed in her home.

Emily's kindness and support have been noticed by others, too. This year, she received the President's Volunteer Service Award for more than 1,400 hours she spent last year "making someone's day."

One of those people is her husband, who was recently deployed to a base in southwest Asia. One would think supporting hundreds of men over the past two years would have prepared Emily for his departure, but it didn't.

"Supporting other families doesn't prepare you for your own deployment," she said.

Still, she gets by knowing that he is among the group of 300 at war she supports.

"My husband just loves what I do," she said. "He's always right there."

The service flag on her front door and the dog-tags and wedding ring she wears around her neck are reminders that he'll be home soon.

He's even gotten the most unique package to date.

"I sent my husband pickles," she said. "He loves pickles so much."

And so, each day will play out much like the last. Emily will keep herself busy by supporting American armed forces in whatever way she can. Maybe she will even convince a few more citizens to join the cause.

"It does not matter if you support the war or not, what matters is that you support the men and women who are over there," she said. "The more support for these guys, the better."

That support, she added, doesn't mean thousands of cookies, letters, pictures or pickles.

"Just because you don't send a package overseas doesn't mean you aren't supporting them," Emily said.

Even so, those who would like to donate to her cause are free to e-mail her at michaels.girl70205@gmail.com.