Sleeping without sheets, deployed Navy Seabees get help from home

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Military personnel deployed overseas understand that they must go without the comforts of home for a while, but when Cathy Montowski found out her son didn’t have the basics for a good night’s sleep, she took action.

Days after their son, Barron, arrived in Afghanistan in September with one of the largest deployments in the history of the United States Navy Construction Battalion, Montowski and her husband, Dennis, learned that his unit was completely without linens. The Navy Seabees, as they are known, lay down the infrastructure needed for troops to effectively travel to and from battle zones.

It is the first time that Barron Montowski, 34, has been deployed to a high-risk area, and he and his fellow Seabees wear heavy armor in 112-degree heat. As if returning to barracks devoid of bed sheets and pillowcases isn’t bad enough, the Seabees have no laundry detergent.

Montowski rallied her own troops — dozens of women who are members of local quilting clubs — to rectify the situation. She sent an open letter asking for help, and within days, the Parker Piece Keepers Quilting Club and the Just Quilting Club had a time, date and location for a “sew-in.”

Thirty of them worked for hours on end Oct. 19, cutting, ironing, sewing and assembling the linens in the aptly named “Inspiration” conference room at Parker Adventist Hospital. They also received donations of laundry detergent, fabric softener and Febreze, as the Seabees have no way of washing the sleeping bags currently in use.

Sandy Pearl, a member of the Parker Piece Keepers, was shocked when she learned of the conditions and immediately stepped in to offer her services.

“It’s pretty unbelievable,” Pearl said. “I heard it was a hurried deployment, but that’s just inexcusable.”

That sentiment was echoed by Parker resident Debby McCloud, who didn’t hesitate to get involved. She said the combining of several skilled hands can make a difference.

“It’s something we can do,” McCloud said. “It’s not much.”

By the end of the day, the same women who worked their fingers to the bone at their sewing machines made 158 pillowcases and collected 117 new and gently used bed sheets, along with $142 to help defray the shipping costs.

So, while the Seabees await orders to rebuild roads, bridges and schools around Afghanistan, they are not far from the minds of the social seamstresses of the Parker Piece Keepers and Just Quilting Club. The decision to help out wasn’t really a decision at all.

“I did this to let them know we are doing what we can to make their lives a little more tolerable while they are in this horrible place,” Montowski said. “We are very grateful for our military and what they've done to protect us.”

Although the main shipment was expected to be sent this week, the groups are still accepting donations of sheets and pillowcases. There are roughly 360 Seabees on the deployment. To get involved, send an email to cjmontowski@gmail.com.