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Holiday Gift and Event Guide Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 29, 2007

As two daughters and two sons-in-law serve their country
...The Waltses say, "We all want peace...sometime soon"

By Saranac Hale Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Little plastic candy canes strung up along the peak of an Army tent in Iraq served as Christmas cheer for Amy Dalton in December of 2004.

That year, she and her husband, and a brother-in-law, were overseas for Christmas, her parents recalled from their Guilderland living room, as a dog dozed in front of the fire. The dog was awaiting her owners’ return; Amy and her husband, Brian Dalton, were due back from a mission to train soldiers in Egypt.

They would be arriving home to a house decked in fall foliage and pumpkins just in time for Thanksgiving. Fall decorations abound at the Walts house, and, hidden under the autumnal vines climbing up the lamp post in the front yard, are evergreen garlands.

"Christmas starts Thanksgiving night," Carol Walts said of her seasonal decorating scheme.

"They’re like their mother in that respect," Dale Walts said of his daughters’ taste for seasonal adornments.

"Lisa’s already put her crèche out," added his wife of their middle daughter, who is an Army pharmacist and head of the Family Readiness Group for her husband’s battalion.

Right now Lisa’s group is raising funds to send care packages to soldiers for Christmas, Dale Walts said.

"First of all, it’s a dry country," said Carol Walts of Iraq. "And chocolate melts," she added. So, between the Muslim county’s prohibition and the heat of the desert, peppermint Schnapps and chocolate treats are out of the question for the Christmas boxes. The Walts’s youngest daughter, Katie, has begun baking dozens of cookies to send, they said. Also often included are things like magazines, DVDs, and socks, they said.

"They really try to avoid thinking about it," Dale Walts said of a soldier’s take on Christmas while deployed. He added of his son-in-law, Michael Farmer, who is in Iraq, "Christmas Day, he could be in the middle of a firefight for god’s sake."

Farmer was sent to Iraq last winter, as part of one of the first units in President George Bush’s troop surge, the Waltses said. Initially, he was to be deployed for three months; he is now expected to be home in February and he just signed on for three more years as a paratrooper.

Farmer believes in what he’s doing, said Dale Walts, and having two military daughters married to two military men, the Walts family has learned to adjust and take things as they come. Both of his daughters missed their weddings at one time or another, he said.

When Amy graduated from Lehigh on a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps scholarship in 2000, she started as a military intelligence officer and set her wedding date for Nov. 26 2001. After the attacks on Sept. 11, Amy and Brian decided to tie the knot ahead of schedule.

"On their lunch break they went, just in their fatigues, to the justice of the peace," said Carol Walts with a waver in her voice. And, 10 days before her November wedding date, Amy was deployed to Kuwait.

The mother of the bride and a trio of friends had spent weeks painting Christmas ornaments as favors for the holiday wedding, so, when the wedding was celebrated the following summer, "We had Christmas in July," Mrs. Walts said. The hand-painted ornaments hung with green leaves and flowers in bloom.

In 2004, not unlike her sister, Lisa graduated from Lehigh on an ROTC scholarship and she and her fiancé were married in front of the justice of the peace, this time with family in tow, before the groom was shipped out. They, too, had a formal wedding at a later date. "You can’t pass the party up," said Dale Walts.

Both couples celebrate two anniversaries each year, according to the Waltses.

The foursome had parallels in the field as well, said Dale Walts. Michael Farmer, who is in the infantry, was part of a raid that garnered some computers that had information that could be useful. They were sent to an intelligence unit to be searched and Dalton, Farmer’s brother-in-law, was the one who handled them.

"You hope that people keep the soldiers in their prayers," said Dale Walts. "We all want peace. Hopefully, it will come sometime soon."

Packages from home help soldiers through "their hardest holiday"

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — Every soldier needs an elf — that’s Darlene Stanton’s philosophy anyway.

As president of the auxiliary at the Boyd Hilton Veterans of Foreign Wars Post, she’s been putting together boxes of treats for years and sending them to local soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Her charity is largely driven by her husband’s service in Vietnam, she said, and the effect that the lack of public support had on soldiers.

"He just said it was kind of lonesome," Stanton said of her husband’s Christmases during the war. There wasn’t as much support for soldiers fighting in Vietnam 30 years ago as there is for the soldiers who are in the Middle East today, she said. Now, "People care a lot more," she said.

"Nobody took the time to do it for them," said Stanton of the public’s feeling towards soldiers during the Vietnam war. "You don’t want to repeat the mistake."

So, she pays special attention to soldiers who don’t get much mail. Stanton has a list of local service men and women and she estimates that she sends between 20 and 30 care packages each Christmas. Each box is "bigger than a case of paper, about half again as big," she said, and filled with candies, beef jerky, and Kool-Aid.

"They want the stuff they can’t get — treats," she said with a chuckle.

Everyone wants the sweets for obvious reasons, but they want the Kool-Aid and lemonade powders to mask the taste of the water that they’re drinking, Stanton said.

When they’re back stateside again, "a lot of the kids come to see me at the Post," she said. "It brings a tear to my eye."

When asked if there is a common thread running through what the young soldiers say, Stanton answered: "Bring us home. Just like they did in ’Nam."

A difference not to be overlooked between this war and its ever-similar older sibling is the public’s support for the soldiers, she said. "I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a letter we haven’t been able to honor," said Stanton of requests from soldiers fighting in Iraq.

With Christmas fast approaching, she’ll surely be busy filling boxes and checking her lists of local soldiers closely.

"It’s the hardest holiday" for soldiers to be away from home, she said. "It’s why we’ve got to bring them home."


Donations of goods to be sent can be made to the Boyd Hilton VFW Post at 7062 Mill St. in Altamont or monetary donations can be sent to P.O. box 505, Altamont, NY 12009 and checks can be made to Boyd Hilton VFW Post.

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