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Cards for Guards

Becky Cartier helps Oregon Guardsmen through tough financial times
by: Cliff Newell, “Buy a card, help a Guard,” is the message of Lake Oswego’s Becky Cartier, who has raised thousands of dollars to help the families of National Guardsmen serving in the Middle East.

When it comes to helping American troops in the Oregon National Guard, Becky Cartier is an army of one. Her chain of command starts and ends with herself.

The Lake Oswego woman started her Cards for Guards program in 2004 and it has been of tremendous help to the families of Guardsmen serving in the Middle East.

Just take the word of Brigadier Gen. Mike Caldwell, commander of the Oregon National Guard.

'Becky has helped a lot of Guard families, and she's done this thing all on her own,' Caldwell said. 'It is amazing how much one person can do. We've sent these cards all over Oregon.'

Blowing her own horn is one thing Cartier doesn't do well. She blushed and smiled when told of Caldwell's words of high praise, and she has declined any formal recognition of her efforts.

But gratitude from some Guard families who found out she was their benefactor is 'something for which I am extremely grateful. They thanked me profoundly. I'm thankful things have worked out so well.'

The most remarkable thing about Cartier's project is that it is just her. There are many formalized aid organizations for just about every branch of military service - Army, National Guard, American Legion, VFW, the Marines, plus charity organizations such as the Salvation Army. But all of them involve bureaucracies and paid staff.

'There is only one quite like this,' Caldwell said. 'Most charity organizations are very formal. Becky's is pretty low impact and low overhead. You buy the cards and ship them to us.'

'I'm proud of that,' Cartier said. 'A gift card buys exactly what is needed - 100 percent of it.'

Becky Cartier is not a military wife or a military mother. In fact, she had no military connections at all.

But in 2004, a year after the American invasion of Iraq began, Cartier began hearing news reports about the plights of Guard families suffering financially due to the war.

'Frankly, I hadn't thought about it before,' Cartier said. 'I didn't realize how much these families lost financially when their husbands and fathers went to war. They really lost a lot of income when a Guardsman was deployed for a year. A lot of families were hit hard.

'I felt I had to do something, and I prayed and prayed about it. The idea happened in the middle of the night.'

The idea was simple: Send press releases all over the state to announce that gift cards could be purchased at grocery and department stores and gas stations - such as Safeway, Albertson's, Fred Meyer, Shell and J.C. Penny's - then send them to the Oregon National Guard for distribution to families.

It is against the law for the National Guard to solicit funds in any form. 'But I'm just a citizen, so I could do it,' Cartier said.

The cards then go to the Army chaplains and family coordinators who find the families most in need of assistance.

The response, she said, has been amazing.

'One year I collected $21,000,' Cartier said. 'It was huge.'

'She has helped a lot of people get over the hump,' Caldwell said. 'We've received great feedback from families. One lady heard about the program and bought $400 worth of cards.'

For security reasons, Cartier has largely been an unsung heroine. And also by her own choice.

'We would love to have Becky celebrated a little bit,' Caldwell said. 'She deserves a lot of credit.'

Instead, Cartier just urges people to keep the cards coming. Recently she has been urging folks to buy cards that will enable children of Guardsmen to purchase school supplies.

But her biggest stroke of all could have national impact.

Cartier said, 'My daughter (Stephanie Hobby of Albuquerque, N.M.) is creating a Web page about Cards for Guards so people in other states can see what I've been doing and how to go about it themselves.'

When not soliciting for gift cards, Cartier collects food for soldiers' families. An employee of Franz Bakery, she arranged a large donation of bread to the 41st Brigade when it returned from service and also helped collect 'all kinds of food' for a barbecue following a parade of troops in Tualatin.

People like Cartier are a ray of light in the increasingly dark situation of the Iraq War.

'After the bloom went off the rose, so to speak, and the war dragged on, we thought people would lose interest in it,' Caldwell said.

'Surprisingly, this has not been the case. People still want to support our soldiers.'

People interested in assisting Cards for Guards can send their gift cards to: Gen. Mike Caldwell, Oregon National Guard, P.O. Box 14350, Salem, Ore., 97309.