Tom Ross: A happy new year to troops

Steamboat Pilot

Steamboat Springs — You don’t know 1st Lt. Nicholas Rasmussen. However, if you contributed some modest gifts or a little cash to the Support the Troops effort in Steam­­boat Sp­­rings in Nov­­em­­ber, you touched Ras­­mussen and his fellow soldiers this holiday season.

Nicky is the nep­­hew of Steam­­boat-area resident Joy Ras­­mus­­sen, and until late fall, he was a graduate student at the University of Iowa studying physical therapy. He had to put his pursuit of a Ph.D. on hold late in fall when his Army National Guard unit was called up to serve in Afghanistan.

Rasmussen is serving at a base near the border of Pakistan and is doing double duty as a medical officer and a public affairs officer. That’s what the Army is famous for, right?

Support the Troops has been an ongoing effort of local military moms Molly Hibbard, Mar­­ci Valicenti and Lynn Mc­­Nas­­by.

Each year under the auspices of the Yampa Valley Com­­mun­­ity Foundation they collect addresses of service members and small gifts, which they ship in care pack­­ages for the holidays with the help of local businesses.

“Molly and I have been doing a grass-roots effort here in Steam­­boat since Thanks­­giving 2003,” Valicenti told me in November.

They understand the small gifts that the troops treasure: magazines, hand sanitizer, sunscreen and lip balm, prepaid phone cards, snacks and especially personal hygiene items.

The response this year was unprecedented and allowed the organizers to spread the gifts, and even four small Christmas trees, around to military members you and I might never meet.

And that’s where Joy Rasmus­­sen and her nephew came in.

Nicky Rasmussen’s mother, Cinda Heiman, reached in Omaha, Neb., on Friday, said when mail call arrived on the day the care packages from Steamboat came, her son’s mail required an entire wooden pallet.

“He got so much mail, he really caught a lot of (good-natured) grief,” Heiman said.

His aunt was proud of what her nephew accomplished through Steamboat’s generosity.

“He distributed seven huge boxes of goods from Steamboat to the troops,” Joy Rasmussen said.

His mother said he earned a new nickname in the process.

“They started calling him St. Nicky,” she said with a laugh.

In a recent e-mail, Rasmussen wrote his aunt:

“Joyful Joy,

I have to say I snuck some of the socks out of one of the care packages you sent and kept them to keep my toes warm. I feel a little guilty, but at the same time very happy since my feet have not been freezing while walking around the dust of Afghanistan. Thanks again for the packages! I know they brought a lot of joy to all the recipients.”

So, what’s a grad student in physical therapy doing in Af­­ghan­­istan, anyway?

Heiman said her 25-year-old son had signed up for Army ROTC to help pay for under­­graduate studies in integrative physi­­ology at the University of Iowa (he graduated with honors).

“He withheld the news from us that his unit had been called up for quite some time,” Heiman said. “I think he was kicking himself because he had several chances to transfer into another unit and just put it off. That medical unit is giving physical exams to other soldiers who are going overseas now. But he’s come to terms with it and has decided that if he has to do something like this, it’s the best time in his life to do it.”

The war in Afghanistan is peculiar because many of us who do not have a loved one serving in harm’s way are strangely detached from the conflict. We have not had to make personal sacrifices to aid the war effort that were made by previous generations, and we go about our lives tracking the football bowl games and worrying about the price of sirloin while other Americans are risking their lives.

Happy new year, Steamboat — you sent a clear message to service men and women you will never meet that someone cares.