STURGIS, KY -- Soldiers from the Kentucky National Guard's 201st Engineer Battalion will get to visit their families this month before going to Afghanistan, thanks to a $49,000 donation from a Western Kentucky business executive, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader in its Saturday edition.
The gift Friday from businessman Bill Baird Ð coupled with donations already raised will provide the $60,000 needed to bus the unit's 500 soldiers from Wisconsin home to Kentucky on April 25 for a six-day visit with families and friends, said Mari Jo Ferguson, whose husband, Lt. Col. Michael Ferguson, commands the 201st Engineer Battalion, reports the newspaper.
"I'm beside myself, I'm so excited," Mari Jo Ferguson said after getting the check wired from Baird. "Somebody up there is watching over us." Baird is the founder and owner of Saturn Machine and Welding Co. at Sturgis in Union County. He now lives in Sarasota, Fla., the newspaper reports.
The company's controller, Julie Quinn, said Baird saw a story about the 201st on television and called her Friday morning.
"He said, 'Julie, I want you to wire them the money,'" Quinn said. "It's going to help these soldiers have some time with their families before they go overseas."
The 201st Engineer Battalion is now training at Fort McCoy, Wis., in preparation for going to Afghanistan in May, reports the Herald-Leader.
But, under Department of Defense policy, neither the Army nor the Kentucky National Guard can pay for the soldiers to come home for a visit before going overseas. (The Army, however, does cover the costs of soldiers' coming for leave during their overseas tours.) Because of that policy, National Guard family members frequently organize campaigns to raise private donations so soldiers can have a visit home before leaving on their overseas toursl, the newspaper reports.
According to Mari Jo Ferguson, it would cost about $130 per soldier to bus the 201st Battalion home. But she said that paying that amount out of pocket would have been a hardship for many lower-ranking unit members. So, not long ago, family members started a fund drive to raise the needed money.
Baird's gift puts the campaign over the top, she said.
Two fund-raising events already scheduled for Saturday will go on as planned, Ferguson said, and any money raised then will be used to send "care packages" to the soldiers after they are overseas, the Herald-Leader reports.
Those fund-raisers will be held at Hamburg Wal-Mart in Lexington, starting at about 10 a.m.; and at Hair Force One in Powell County from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
"Six days might not sound like much to someone who hasn't been through this," Ferguson said, "but it means a lot when you aren't going to see your loved ones for 10 months," reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Copyright - The Lexington Herald-Leader