As a child, Daryl Walsh often requested new sleds, snowshoes or other outdoor playthings for Christmas. Now age 25, his holiday wish list is a bit more streamlined for practicality.

This year, Walsh is requesting just 36 pairs of socks.

Walsh, a U.S. Army specialist, has been deployed to the mountains of Afghanistan this winter along with 35 other members of the Fox Company’s 2nd Platoon Stryker Cavalry.

That desolate Afghan locale is characterized by steep, jagged mountain peaks, bombed-out valleys and temperature extremes ranging from a sweltering 120 degrees in summer to minus 30 in winter.

On a rare two-week visit home to North Berwick this past fall, Walsh and his mother, Deborah Walsh, spoke of how they would celebrate the upcoming holidays from their respective corners of the world. And, like she’d done nearly every year since his birth, Deb asked Daryl: “What would you like for Christmas?”

For U.S. troops deployed to military hot zones around the world, keeping sentimental tokens from home is not an option. Many, like Daryl, live in forward operating bases or tent cities, equipped with the most basic support services. There, a solider’s “person space” amounts to a cot and a small footlocker big enough for essentials. Therefore, care packages from home must be consumable or wearable.

Daryl’s response to his mom’s Christmas wish list query was simple, and typically, well thought out: “The one thing that improves our quality of life in Afghanistan are SmartWool brand socks,” he replied.

And so began operation “Socks for Soldiers.”

For the past few weeks, Deb has been putting the word out to community members about her mission to outfit Daryl’s entire unit with the aforementioned footwear.

“A lot of people use these socks for hiking because they are warm, well padded and wick moisture away from the feet,” said Deb. “They are a bit pricey — about $12 to $14 per pair — but they are worth every penny. These guys are up in the mountains hiking for days on end, in a harsh environment. So, they need something to buffer their feet. And, come December and January, it will be brutally cold.”

Deb expects the cost of purchasing the socks is about $400, plus shipping. She hopes to send them out next week so that they will arrive in time for Christmas.

“We would love to have cards and notes of encouragement included from community members, Girl and Boy Scouts and school children or adults — even if they don’t want to make a donation,” said Deb. “That would mean a lot to our soldiers.”

Deb said Daryl has wanted to be a soldier since age 8. A lifelong Boy Scout, he preferred outdoor activities, “especially in the snow and rain ” was a “strategic thinker who was always looking at the big picture,” and was “an excellent motivator who drew others around him.”

Deb said Daryl’s boyhood Christmases always included attending candlelight services at the Sanford Unitarian Universalist Church and then home to open his new Christmas pajamas and another gift. There was the reading of his favorite Christmas books, leaving a treat for Santa and a little reconnaissance work by Daryl before he went to bed.

“I can’t tell you how many times he tried to trap Santa,” said Deb. “We didn’t have a chimney, so he’d do things like rig the door to make a noise if someone opened it.”

Daryl, who began his service to the country in 2006, hasn’t been home for Christmas since 2005. But Deb still continues to uphold the family traditions. She’ll attend Christmas Eve services, decorate the family tree and hang Daryl’s handknit Christmas stocking next to a single electric candle that has been perpetually lit in her front window since the first Gulf War began in 1990 (the original disintegrated this past July and was replaced).

Both are symbolic of the hope that loved ones serving in the military will soon come home for good.

Until then Deb said, “I hope to increase awareness of the sacrifices being made by our military men and women and their families and hope that results in greater efforts to support them as they support our country.”

 

Staff Writer Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at: dsayer@pressherald.com