In the midst of the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, it is easy to lose sight of the sacrifices our servicemen and servicewomen make each and every day on our behalf. Our soldiers and their families are the ones affected by these sacrifices, putting their own lives on hold for the betterment of their country.
Summer Hutchins - wife of retired NFL defensive back and current Oakland Raiders Pro Scout Von Hutchins - is part of one of those families.
"My father served, my younger brother served, a host of cousins, aunts and cousins," said Hutchins. "I grew up in Virginia Beach, which is a huge military town. I know how the war in Iraq, Desert Storm, 9–11, not only affected the families that (suffered a) tragic loss, but affected the families with members who then had to go away for so long."
Hutchins' sister, Sherica Harris, is currently serving in Afghanistan as a Master Sergeant/E7. Her title within the Air Force is Personnel Programs/CJ1/TAAC-Air, which is much like a human resources role.
"She's a lover of people," said Hutches. "Knowing that she is protecting her family and the families of others is, I think, what keeps her going. Even if she's only doing a very small part, it's an integral part."
Harris says she originally joined the military back in 1997 to travel, believing she would be in for her first enlistment and then find something else to do.
She was caught off guard, though, by the love she found for the job. Not only were her eyes were opened to a world she wouldn't have otherwise experienced, she genuinely enjoyed taking care of others.
Now, 18 years later, Harris still loves it, but she has a family she loves as well. Married in 2003, she and her husband have a 10-year-old son and four-year-old daughter who miss her like crazy when she's away.
"They are my everything," she says of being away from her family for long periods of time. "I overcome that by talking to them on FaceTime, school, work, and the gym. I have to keep occupied so that I don’t sit and think about not being able to be with them."
It is that struggle that led Harris and some of her colleagues to facilitate a home-away-from-home in the form of a holiday party. As part of that initiative, Harris reached out to friends and family — including Hutchins — to solicit items to give as gifts.
"We’re here in a hostile environment away from home, family and friends," she said. "It can be really tough and it’s always nice to not have to think about where you are even if it is just for a moment."
When Hutchins heard from her sister, she immediately connected the NFL's Salute to Service initiative with Harris' goal of bringing the holidays to her colleagues.
"I thought it was a great thing to do," said Hutchins. "I said, ‘let me reach out to my NFL family and see if we can do something.'"
Hutchins facilitated a gift-giving drive, collecting items over the past two weeks to send overseas to ensure none of these soldiers feel forgotten this holiday season.
"I gave suggestions for gifts based off of what my sister suggested," said Hutchins. "Little things like headphones, DVDs, games, and puzzles.
"Some of the troops have been there almost the full year, so it could even be a gift item that could be used back home. Or you can stick to your typical dorm room items to kind of make it feel more like home."
Four boxes of gifts, which will be mailed to Afghanistan today, include board games, playing cards, snacks, gift cards, head phones, DVDs, scarves, beautiful blankets, games, beauty products, and more. Families from the Oakland Raiders' front office, coaching staff, and players all participated.
"I am so grateful to all who gave and the outpouring of support for our troops," said Hutchins. "Participants were so gracious to give back to those who risk their lives daily for our freedom. Many felt honored to give back and compelled to do so in order to give thanks."
"We really appreciate it (the support)," added Harris. "It’s difficult for us to pull this off on our own because we’re limited on options. We appreciate any and all help — it truly means a lot to us."