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MONDAY, MARCH 21, 2005
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GE volunteers offer repair service to military families

By Paul Huggins
DAILY Staff Writer

phuggins@decaturdaily.com 340-2395

A leaky water heater sprung an idea that will flow across North Alabama to help military personnel serving overseas.

A group of 45 volunteer repairmen, supported financially by local patriotic organizations, will provide free home or car maintenance to families lacking their usual do-it-yourselfer because of military service.

Richard Smith, a General Electric employee, developed the idea while he was on Army active duty between April 2002 and May 2004.

"My hot water heater busted and stuff like that, and my daughter was home alone," he explained. "I made enough money where I just paid someone to do it. But a lot of people, the private first classes and the specialist fours, they don't make that much money and I got to thinking, 'What do they do?' "

Smith shared his concerns with GE co-workers and in December they developed the plan to offer free repair for heating and air-conditioning, electrical and plumbing systems as well as vehicles.

"As long as we have people deployed — National Guard, Reserves, regular Army, anybody that is overseas defending our country — as long as they have trouble at home, we'll do what we can," Smith said.

Their plan fits the goals of Operation Grateful Heart, a program started by Gov. Bob Riley in June. The program gives military personnel and their families recognition, tangible support and neighborly care while deployed and upon their return.

It encourages Alabamians to participate through a variety of ways such as offering discounts on goods and services, reduced or free admission to recreational activities/events, tuition waivers, youth programs and potluck dinners.

Smith said as eager as his group was to help, they were reluctant to be involved with buying supplies and then having to give the bills to the people they helped. They turned to the Operation Grateful Heart coordination office in Montgomery, which helped secure $500 from the Decatur American Legion. Legionnaires then spread the word to Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans posts in Decatur and the VFW in Falkville, who each gave $500.

"We know people are coming back now, but this will be an ongoing project, so they can tap into it at any time," said Becky Burney, Decatur VFW Grateful Heart representative.

Burney (685-1514) said they notified local deployed units so spouses are aware of program. So far the program has received two calls, both from an Albertville woman with a 9-month-old baby, who had leaky pipes under her sink.

Sam Condrey, Grateful Heart state coordinator, said similar community efforts have popped up across Alabama.

A group in Huntsville raised money so a returning serviceman could pay house and car payments while he recuperated from a hernia operation. Two churches and a VFW in South Alabama raised money to pay the $2,000 funeral of a serviceman's stillborn infant. The state office also has begun coordinating donations to publish a book of letters from schoolchildren that will go to troops overseas.

Anyone who wants to coordinate an effort with the state may contact Condrey at (866) 452-4944.

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