Hartland Township Soldier stocking stuffers From Michigan to Afghanistan, gifts reach troops before holiday

Jim Totten

Livingston County Daily Press & Argus (Howell)

HARTLAND TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) -- In a frigid mountain range in Afghanistan, a platoon of U.S. Army soldiers received stockings packed with gifts and love from the community in Livingston County's Hartland Township a few days before Christmas.

Sgt. Phil Laier and his platoon opened 30 stockings made by his mother, Debbie Laier, his sister, Tonya Petrucci and family friend Diana Plewka. Debbie Laier and Plewka are both bus drivers for Hartland Consolidated Schools.

The stockings contained everything a soldier might want but can't find in Afghanistan, including a deck of cards, DVD movies, popcorn balls, Rice Krispie treats, razor blades, deodorant, gum, cocoa, cookies, shaving cream, body wash, hand and toe warmers and beef jerky. Of course, each stocking came with a candy cane.

"I wish I could see their faces," Debbie Laier said.

She said her friend Plewka, a seamstress, made camouflage stockings and embroidered them with the platoon name, RCP 67, or Route Clearance Platoon 67. The group is responsible for looking for improvised explosive devices along the road and taking care of them.

Local elementary students also made Christmas cards that were tucked into the stockings.

As soon as word got out about their plans to create these holiday stockings, Petrucci said, people flooded them with stocking gifts and cash.

"The outpouring was amazing," said Petrucci.

She said the family is so proud of her brother, who is the youngest child of seven children of Debbie and Ed Laier. Phil Laier, who is 22, had already served 15 months in Iraq before being sent to Afghanistan.

Petrucci said she expected support from family and friends, but it was touching when others who don't know her brother that well donated items or money.

"For so many other people to reach out, it was wonderful," Petrucci said.

She said each stocking weighed 4 pounds. Not all the gifts could fit, so they packed up several boxes which were also shipped.

"It ended up being a really neat thing," Debbie Laier said.

She said she's grown more comfortable with her son serving in the Army, which he joined straight out of high school. He graduated from Hartland High School in 2006. She said he was so young -- only 18 -- when he completed basic training and was deployed.

"He was young to be halfway around the world doing that," she said.

She said her son has five more months to go before returning home.

Published: Wed, Jan 19, 2011

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