Shared from the 2017-05-28 Albany Times Union eEdition

SYMBOLISM

Boosting their morale, a star at a time

Stars for Our Troops’ founder shows gratitude for service

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To order stars for a military member or emergency responder, and for information on volunteering, go to www.starsforourtroops.org.

•Donated flags may be mailed to Stars for Our Troops Inc., c/o G F W 715 Columbia Turnpike, East Greenbush, NY 12061

Stars for Our Troops sends stars from flags to veterans and first responders.

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Provided photo Stars for our troops founder Susan Wells delivers stars to boost morale.

Troy

Susan Wells carries hundreds of stars in her pockets wherever she goes. She wants them at her fingertip, so she can hand them to any military man or woman, veteran or first responder she encounters.

On any given day, her Troy apartment probably contains more than 4,000 stars woven from white thread, neatly clipped from retired American flags. Wells says she and her volunteer “star-makers” mailed 47,000 stars so far this year to active duty military, veterans and emergency medical service workers.

“I have more than 210 volunteers and they have star parties all over,” Wells said, referring to gatherings where attendees pack 50 stars and a note into little bags. “I just sent instructions to Eagle Scouts on how to make the star packets. This is the 17th Eagle Scout troop to help me.”

Wells founded Stars for Our Troops Inc. in 2010 after a friend told her about a smaller, similar project in Florida. Wells said she has applied for 501c3 nonprofit status and it is pending. She asks people to donate American flags that are too bedraggled or soiled to be flown. Each soldier, sailor, airman, emergency responder and veteran gets two bags containing a total of 100 stars.

A note inside each bag of stars says: “I am part of our American flag that has flown over a home in the U.S.A. I can no longer fly. The sun and winds have caused me to become tattered and torn. Please carry me as a reminder that you are not forgotten.”

She often includes an additional small card with the number of a hotline for anyone suffering depression or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And sometimes she includes a card with a hotline for the homeless.

Wells recently sent 1,200 stars to West Point graduates. She also contacts VFW halls, hospices, Veterans Administration hospitals and nursing homes to get names of vets whose spirits would get a boost from the stars. She has also reached out to homeless shelters. One Girl Scout from Texas mailed stars to the Dallas police department after five policemen were ambushed and killed by a gunman during a July protest.

Wells attended the inductions into the New York Veterans’ Hall of Fame in at the state Capitol building. The annual ceremony in Albany honors New Yorkers who distinguished themselves in the military. She gave a star to Major Scott Smiley, 36, a skilled surfer and triathlete who was blinded by a car bomb in Iraq. Wells only uses woven flag stars so blind recipients will have a memento with individual detail detectable by touch.

When Wells personally delivers stars, she wears a red, white and blue outfit topped by a big red hat emblazoned with a white star and covered with patriotic pins. Her laugh boomed as she recalled how she once dressed in demure colors and went hatless to an event honoring the military. No one recognized her. She realized that the hat, glittering with patriotic metal pins, had become her signature. Recently, a group hosting a veterans’ job fair asked her to sit at their front table in her signature ensemble with the hat.

“I asked them why, since I have no jobs to give,” she said. “ And they told me they wanted me there to boost morale because our military men and women know how much I believe in them.”

She cherishes thank you emails and notes that the military personnel and EMS crews send her. One soldier told her he was stationed overseas in the middle of “nothing but sand.” He spent weeks sweating, eating vacuum-packed food and dreaming of getting anywhere he could have a hot meal and a hot shower. When he got back to a U.S. base, one soldier had just gotten 100 stars in the mail. He immediately shared them with his buddies and handed one to Wells’ correspondent.

“He told me it was better than a hot meal and shower,” she said.

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