Trial by fire

Families’ resiliency tested

Military families are known for their resilience. Deployments, war, separation, reunion and frequent moves are regular parts of their lives.

So, when faced with a fire in a German warehouse Oct. 30 that destroyed the household goods of more than 120 families stationed in U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart, they did what they’ve done time and time again — pulled together for support.

Garrison officials, organizations and individuals, including some of the victims, revealed a spirit of resilience by finding hope in a tough situation and reaching out to support others.

Sandy Leshinsky and her husband, a Marine Corps sergeant major in the process of retiring, lost items collected from more than 19 military moves and 120 countries visited, along with “30 years and three days” worth of military honors, to the fire.

“I had quite a collection of things,” Leshinsky said. “Every scrapbook, every medal, his dress blues … you can only think of little bits at a time or you would really lose your mind.”

However, she was determined to stay positive. “The good news is, no one was hurt,” Leshinsky said. “I think of positive things and I write them down.”

In preparation for moving to New Zealand, the Leshinskys set aside some belongings for charity, but when they heard that a young Marine lost his belongings in the fire as well, they gave them to him.

Young military families need the most support, Leshinsky said. “They’ve never been away from home. They don’t have as much experience behind them as we do.”

She recalled when the community rallied around her while she was going through treatments for breast cancer and her husband was deployed.

“The Marine spouses were there for me,” she said. “That’s what happening now. We pulled together and we’ll help each other.”

Army Sgt. Geoff Gomez, a Soldier in the 554th Military Police Company, also witnessed the community’s ability to support families when his wife and three children lost all of their winter clothes and unaccompanied baggage to the fire. 

“We’ve been here since Oct. 8. [The kids] started school the week after. They’ve pretty much been wearing the same clothes over and over again,” Gomez said.

His platoon immediately took up a donation after learning about the fire. The Family Readiness Group also requested clothing and blankets from other families in the company. Gomez was touched by the support his unit providing, along with garrison leaders and organizations. “The quick response that the garrison command has had, I think, is outstanding,” Gomez said.

Likewise, the response of organizations and volunteers was surprisingly quick, according to Army Spc. Keenan O’Donnell, a new lab technician at the Stuttgart Army Health Clinic, who lost his household goods in the fire. Days after the fire, Gomez, his wife and children, ages 5 and 3, moved into their house, with help from the Housing Office.

“I really wanted to get out of the hotel,” O’Donnell said. “They put temporary furniture in there for us [and] made sure the basic stuff was there that we didn’t have.”

He also received help from clinic personnel.“They handed me some money a couple of days later,” he said. One co-worker gave his family things from her own home. “She gave me a few things like kitchen items,” he said. “She gave my wife some clothes. She gave us a bed set; we were able to use it.”

However, they still lost items that can’t be replaced, such as wedding photos and the children’s favorite toys. The children still don’t know their toys are gone, O’Donnell said. “They keep asking us, ‘When are the toys getting here?’” O’Donnell’s children were able to pick out some “new” toys at the thrift shop on Patch Barracks, where volunteers helped the family.

“People who aren’t involved in community services [and] spouses came out to work at the thrift store [and] helped us load things into their vans. It’s been overwhelming,” he said. “The way volunteers and people totally unrelated have pulled together to try to do something is wonderful.”

“We’ll continue to be part of this community, and look for a chance to give back the same,” he added.