FORT RILEY, Kan. (WIBW) -- Hundreds of Fort Riley soldiers received handmade gifts Wednesday as part of a massive volunteer effort to give back to the troops after a dangerous and deadly year-long deployment to Afghanistan.
One by one, soldiers with the 4th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division were given quilts that were hand-stitched by volunteers from across the country.
A group called "Quilts for Valor" handed out more than 500 quilts on Fort Riley's Custer Hill Wednesday afternoon. Volunteer quilters from across Kansas and 18 other states around the country contributed to the project.
"We provide quilts for all military but this is a special group because of the nature of the mission they endured over in Afghanistan. So when we were asked to make quilts to cover every member of the brigade, we said we would. And that’s what Quilts of Valor is all about, providing comfort to military families who have been touched by war," said Martha Smith with Quilts of Valor.
"These men and women did incredible. They faced a tough, entrenched Taliban enemy that had been there for many years. The Taliban there fought in places their fathers and grandfathers fought in against the Soviets in the 1980s," said 4-4 Cav's Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Mike Katona.
The squadron, know as the "Pale Riders," had close to 150 soldiers wounded in combat and eight members were killed in action during the deployment, including Staff Sergeant Jamie Jarboe.
Jarboe, 27, died March 12 after succumbing to injuries he received while deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
A native of Frankfort, Ind., Jarboe served as a team leader with the "Pale Riders" during the unit’s recent yearlong deployment to the Zhari District near Kandahar, Afghanistan. While on patrol with his Soldiers, he was struck in the neck by a sniper’s bullet.
Severely wounded, he was evacuated to Germany and later to several medical facilities in the U.S., where he underwent more than 100 surgeries. He was left paralyzed from the chest down, but in early March was able to return to his wife’s adopted hometown of Topeka to be with his Family.
Soldiers, Family members and friends honored Jarboe's life during a memorial service April 5 at the Morris Hill Chapel.
The "Pale Riders" supported Operation Enduring Freedom as part of Combined Task Force Strike and Combined Task Force Spartan, while partnered with the 2nd Kandak, 3rd Brigade, 205th Corps from the Afghan National Army.
The unit conducted hundreds of combat patrols denying the insurgents freedom to move at will and facilitated the construction of tactical infrastructure. Over the course of deployment: eight new pieces of tactical infrastructure were built, five new roads were cut, and eight air assaults were conducted to separate the insurgents from the population.
The troops destroyed thousands of pounds of homemade explosives, military vests and military grade explosives.
"They stood harms way so that I can be free, so that I can say what I want, feel what I want, do what I want within the law and if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be the country that we have today," Martha Smith said. She told 13 News that she felt an overwhelming "sense of well being" as she watched the soldiers get their quilts that volunteers spent hours stitching in order to honor the troops' service and bravery.
"It’s going to be good to commemorate everything- the deployment, the community caring for us, all of the packages we received and really all of the support we got from the United States and everybody, including family members, friends, community members," said Staff Sergeant Jason Langrehr, a 4-4 Cav soldier.
"It’s great for soldiers to know that people all over America, not just in the local area, but all over America are thinking about them and it’s something they can see and they can actually use every day for their families to provide them comfort and that’s what they need right now," Lieutenant Colonel Katona added.
Members of "Quilts of Valor" said the gifts they made for the soldiers are meant to be lasting reminders that the sacrifices they make do not go unrecognized here at home.
About 80 to 100 Freedom Riders from the local Kansas chapter also attended the event to show their support for the Soldiers.