Several months ago I received an email from a gentleman who introduced himself as a retired Air Force pilot. He'd come across the blog and wanted to help, mentioning he was "deeply touched by the service that Soldier's Angels provides to our guys and gals in their hour of need."
We started 'talking' and he told me his story.
I was a USAF fighter pilot (F-100 Super Sabre) based on Landstuhl Air Base circa 1958-1961. Living in the Landstuhl BOQ was the best time of my life. It didn't hurt that the exchange rate was 4.2 D-Marks to the dollar. Gas was 7 cents a gallon and beer a nickel at the PX. We lived like Kings on $300 a month salary. A brand new Porsche was $2,300 and the VW Beetle was $1,000.
The fraternal experience and bonding was so great we still have annual pilot reunions for pilots based there in the fifties and sixties. We were a wild and crazy bunch, mostly early twenties singles, dashing about in sports cars, zipping aloft in jet fighters and lavishing extraordinary attention on the Landstuhl nurses and Ramstein school teachers.
After 11 years in USAF including a 1965 tour in Viet Nam flying the F-105 Thunderchief I became an airline pilot but never lost my love, respect and admiration for all military who serve our great nation.
And so Gary's new mission began - find high quality clothing at great prices for our wounded warriors transitioning through Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Gary recounts his odyssey:
Next time I was in Costco I picked up 10 sets of sweat pants for the Angels. I kept checking on the site and next time at Costco bought 60 t-shirts. A few days later I happen to be near Carlsbad CA Outlets and since Adidas was having a great sale I took all 26 baggy basketball pants they had.
I visited the Adidas store again a couple of days later and loaded up with over 100 items. I asked the manager for and additional 10% discount explaining the good cause involved. He agreed and everyone in the store was very helpful.
A couple of days later after lunch I dropped in on the Dick's Sporting Good store near my home to check prices on the Adidas items to see if indeed they had been a bargain. Dick's was having a huge 50% off clearance sale. I asked the manager for another 10% for the Angels and he agreed. It's a big store and the buzz went round that these items for for our wounded soldiers. Everyone wanted to help.
I called my brother Jim in Yakima, WA and he agreed to contribute $2500 toward Angels clothing. Jim was never on active duty but served 32 years in the Army Guard and Army Reserve and made full colonel. It's a family joke, I was only a captain after 11 years active duty.
The next day I drove to another Dick's Sporting Goods store about 70 miles away and found the best deals yet. I was now asking for and getting another 20% off the already great sale prices and purchased over a hundred items using Jim's money.
After picking out every suitable item on sale I would call Jim in Yakima, put him on the phone with the store manager who would take down Jim's credit card information. Each store had four or five people involved in the check out. The theft tag had to be removed, hanger removed, item scanned, then bagged.
One printed cash register receipt was over five feet long and the next one was over six feet long.
I felt like I was on a roll, so I decided to drive about 75 miles to Lake Elsinore where a Rebock Outlet is located. They had a few racks with an additional 40% off. As I was sifting through the merchandise the manager said if you buy $100 worth we'll give you another 20% off.
An hour later I had filled three of those six foot rolling salesman racks with great merchandise. There were a dozen or so of these gorgeous zip up jackets with great pockets and fit that I really wanted for our soldiers. But, they were $35 or $21 on sale. I was trying to get items priced near $10. After some some haggling they gave me all 10 for about $12 each.
In all, Jim and I purchased over 600 items for about $8,000. I think the retail value of the items are at least $30,000. Some $15 prices were $75 retail.
Gary encourages other Angels to leverage their donation funds by watching for outlet mall sales. He's a fan of Dick's Sporting Goods, which has over 440 stores nationwide and clearance sales 2 - 3 times a year. He also recommends speaking with the store manager and letting him know who the items are for, which often results in additional discounts.
Soldiers' Angels salutes Gary and Jim Barnhill for their prior service to our nation - and their continued service to today's warriors. Their extraordinary donation made a significant contribution to getting us through the busy summer months at Landstuhl. Thank you, Gary and Jim! Love you guys!