Sunday, October 17, 2004

When Army Sgt. Ben Jost sent an e-mail from Afghanistan asking his family and friends to send coats for the war-torn country’s orphans, his firefighting “brothers” in Dale City, Va., went all out to answer his call.

The Prince William County Fire and Rescue Department and the Dale City Volunteer Fire Department started a coat drive two weeks ago and, with the community’s help, have collected dozens of boxes of coats, gloves, hats and scarves for Afghan children, as well school supplies, including reams of paper, pencils and pens.

David Buchanan, equipment manager for the Dale City department, estimates that it has collected nearly 200 boxes of winter clothes and school supplies.

“This has snowballed into something more than we expected, but it is a good thing,” Mr. Buchanan said. “Now we are wondering how to get a whole tractor-trailer full out to Afghanistan.”

The collection started after Sgt. Jost, 31, a county firefighter, told his parents in an e-mail that he wanted to start a coat drive for children living in some of the villages he patrols in Afghanistan.

Because he didn’t have the means to do it, the Front Royal, Va., resident asked his parents for help. “The kids have nothing here,” he wrote in the Aug. 24 e-mail.

His parents shared the e-mail with his younger sister, Tammy Jost, 25, who immediately took it to the Dale City fire department, where she has volunteered for three years.

There, firefighters didn’t hesitate to spread the word in the community, which responded in droves.

Miss Jost said she hopes the military will pitch in to transport the donations to Afghanistan. Otherwise, she said, she will go to her local post office and mail each box individually. “There is no stopping this now,” she said.

Mr. Buchanan said the department is looking for ways to deliver the donations overseas. “If anyone has a bright idea of how to get a truckload of stuff to Afghanistan, please throw it our way,” he said.

Miss Jost said she can’t wait for her brother to find out how his firefighting family has responded to his request. “He knows we are collecting things. He does not know to what extent this is going on,” she said. “He is going to be overwhelmed with joy.”

Sgt. Jost has been a county firefighter for about two years and a volunteer firefighter with the Dale City Volunteer Fire Department for 11 years.

He is serving in the Bravo Company, 5th Platoon, 116th Infantry of the Army National Guard. A husband and father of three, Sgt. Jost began his two-year tour in Afghanistan in July.

Serving with Sgt. Jost in his same unit is firefighter Troy White, of the Dale City Volunteer Fire Department. The two men are offering humanitarian support to Afghanistan.

Sgt. Jost wrote the e-mail to thank his family for sending a care package to him. “If given the choice,” he wrote, “I would rather the care package go to [the children] instead of me.”

The firefighters who work with Sgt. Jost and Mr. White say the request for humanitarian supplies is typical for both soldiers.

“I know Ben well,” Mr. Buchanan said. “The amazing thing about him is how selfless he is. This is exactly the thing he would do.”

Anyone interested in donating coats or school supplies can drop them off at four stations in Woodbridge: Station 10 on Birchdale Avenue, Station 13 on Hillendale Drive, Station 18 on Dale Boulevard and Station 20 on Prince William Parkway.

Mr. Buchanan said his department will continue to accept donations after the Nov. 1 deadline and will get them overseas.

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