Sendoff bash to be held on JBER

Event to show support for the 3,500 ‘Spartans’ heading to Afghanistan


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Before troops from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson are deployed for dangerous duty in Afghanistan for a year, Deborah Bonito wants them to have a day of fun.

On Saturday, Nov. 19, Bonito — Sen. Mark Begich’s wife — and the Armed Services YMCA of Alaska are hosting a sendoff event at JBER for the troops of the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division and their families.

The event, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Buckner Field House, will include a barbeque, activities and tons of donations, Bonito said. Movies, books and stuffed animals will be available for the children, she said. For the adults, donations of coffee, music, DVDs, cookies, knitted goods and jewelry will be on hand, she said.

“It’s going to be a great day,” Bonito said.

Kids can also enjoy a giant inflatable slide, bounce house, an inflated obstacle course and take-home craft tables, Bonito said.

“The kids always love it,” she said.

About 3,500 troops from the brigade — whose nickname is the “Spartans” — will be deploying to Afghanistan for a year. The bulk of the deployment will begin at the end of November and will continue into December, said Chuck Canterbury, U.S. Army Alaska media relations officer. A public send-off will be held on Nov. 29 from 10 a.m. to noon at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.

Bonito said she started spearheading events such as this when she was Anchorage’s first lady. Bonito said she tries to host two or three events a year to show support for the troops.

Bonito, who’s been coordinating the event from Washington, D.C., has had help from Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce executive director Susie Gorski. Bonito said Gorski was instrumental in finding nearly 20 volunteers to work at the sendoff event.

The military, friends of Bonito and Sen. Begich’s office are also volunteering.

While the day is about fun, it’s also to let the troops know that their community is behind them, Bonito said.

“We wanted to give them a day of fun to let them know we appreciate and support them,” Bonito wrote in an email. “It’s just to remind people during the holiday season to keep these folks in their hearts and prayers,” she said.

Bonito said the troops are astonished by the support they receive in Alaska.

“We know we have a very supportive civilian community and just want remind everyone that these brave men and women continue to serve in harm’s way repeatedly and they and their families need our ongoing support,” she wrote in an email.

The Armed Services YMCA of Alaska is a nonprofit that “provides support to service members and their families through educational, recreational and social programs,” according to its website.

Bonito said she was drawn to Armed Services YMCA of Alaska because it supports the troops and their families. The nonprofit also serves the entire military, another aspect Bonito said she likes about the organization.

“They cross all branches of the military,” she said. “They’re kind of a critical arm to the military.”

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