Georgia National Guard, students give to seniors

Photo by J.D. Sumner

Photo by J.D. Sumner

ALBANY, Ga. -- Who knew elves wore camouflage?

The residents at Palmyra Nursing home saw first-hand Saturday that spreading Christmas cheer is sometimes done best with combat boots as soldiers from the Georgia National Guard and students from

Westover High School delivered Christmas cards and gifts.

Organized by Westover teacher John Daughety, who by day teaches math to teens and by weekend serves as a staff sergeant in the guard, the event was initially planned for just the veterans at the nursing home because Daughety figured resources would likely be slim to put the gift packages together.

"But things have just really come together," Daughety said. "People have really been generous and giving for this and my students and guard unit have really stepped up."

But when Daughety and his unit marched through the doors at the nursing home Saturday, the "Patriots for Patriots," idea had turned into much more. I became one that allowed the group to give all the residents a small gift and still donate some items to the Albany Rescue Mission.

PFC Carmen Kendrick, who is a Westover graduate and one of Daughety's former students, said that community involvement, especially when it involves prior veterans, is one reason why she joined the guard.

"I'm here today to give back to the community, to give back to the veterans here at the nursing home, for them," Kendrick said. "It's important for me because they basically paved the way for me."

Many of the residents who received gifts Saturday seemed touched by the generosity of a group of fellow soldiers who, although separated by generations, have volunteered to serve their country during a time of war just as many of them did.

SSG Ferlene Palmer, the recruitment and retention non-commissioned officer for the unit, thanked the local veterans for their service and said that it was an honor to be able to bring them something for Christmas.

"It's hard to do this and not cry," Palmer said. "To think that many of these people served on battlefields, and now, may not have anyone to visit them for Christmas or get them anything."

The day apparently meant a lot to the students as well. One, Datreaon Edwards, hopped a city bus on the south side of town and rode across the city just to participate, all after helping to wrap 230 gifts on Thursday.

Nursing home staff said they work hard each year to make sure that each of the residents get something for Christmas. It often isn't much, they say, but it's something.

"I'm just so proud of my students and my unit for pulling this together like this," Daughety said. "They really stepped up."