While her son fought with an army mortar squad in Iraq in 2006 and endured who knew what, Healdsburg hairstylist Mary St. Clair did the only thing she could think of to comfort and sustain him.
St. Clair shopped regularly for socks, tasty treats, personal hygiene items and such, boxed them up and shipped them to Dustin, a 2001 graduate of Geyserville High, and his buddies. The soldiers quickly came to anticipate and treasure the care packages they received like clockwork from Dustin's mother.
When Dustin, now 28, received an early discharge in 2007 in order to enroll at Colorado State University, his mother recalled, "I thought I was done."
Boy, did she have that wrong.
Following his honorable discharge, some of the soldiers with whom Dustin served in Iraq were deployed to Afghanistan. One, a sergeant named Marcus Barber, wasn't the least bit shy about asking Dustin's mom if she'd please keep the packages coming.
St. Clair, 56, wouldn't say no. Her beauty-shop clients added to the packages she sent regularly to Sgt. Barber and his unit in Afghanistan.
Today Barber, too, is discharged from the army and living back in the states. And Mary St. Clair is farther away than ever from being done with sending packages to deployed soldiers.
Her once-simple mission to supply her son and his pals with necessities and niceties has grown into Healdsburg SOS — Supporting Our Soldiers. Right now her living room is piled up with items that she and her helpers will box up this week and send off as SOS' largest-ever single shipment.
The organization (healdsburgsos.org), supported by St. Clair's clients and also by Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, businesses and individuals throughout Healdsburg and Geyserville, has adopted 180 soldiers serving in units of the 4th Infantry Division in rural Afghanistan.
Each soldier will receive one of the boxes that will be filled in a packaging party at Villa Chanticleer on Tuesday and lugged to the post office Wednesday. There also will be several boxes of cookies to share, baked by culinary-class students at Windsor High School, so the total number of cartons will reach 200.
As St. Clair and her network of community partners prepare for the big shipment, the war in Afghanistan has reached its 10-year mark. The anniversary is focusing intensified attention on the question of whether or not the U.S. should be waging that war.
St. Clair believes that to be entirely separate from whether Americans will lose sight of the soldiers who are there following orders and are much of the time cold or hot, dirty, bug-bitten, hungry and homesick. They aren't St. Clair's sons or daughters, but they're somebody's.
"I don't care who they are," she said. "All I care is that they get something that they can't go and purchase, and it makes me happy."
There are some nice things going into the individual packages this week: handmade wool caps, blankets, homemade granola from the women of Alexander Valley Ladies Aid, handwritten cards from children at St. John's School and The Healdsburg School, dried fruit, biscotti from Costeaux French Bakery.
St. Clair said it feels good to be sending boxes to 180 soldiers. If community support for Healdsburg SOS continues to grow, she said, "I'd love to take on 500."