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Bandanas For Bragg | By Stephanie Brigman

Ziploc bags, rubber bands and stacks of bandanas lined the tables at Village Baptist Church.

Mary Gray and a small army of volunteers laughed and joked as they folded and packed 720 bandanas. What began as a gift for one person has turned into a full-scale operation, a source of hope for hundreds of soldiers serving overseas.

Just two years ago, Gray couldn’t have imagined the demand. “This is bigger than me,” she said recently, “a lot bigger than me. But I serve a big God and if He wants to accomplish a task, it will get done.”

As a military wife and mother, Gray wanted to offer encouragement and support to her son, who was serving in Iraq. She searched the Internet and found a company that produced camouflage bandanas. But it was the words on the bandana that really struck a chord. Printed on one side was Psalm 91, sometimes referred to as the soldier’s psalm. After purchasing a bandana for her own son, Gray wished she could send one to every soldier stationed at Fort Bragg deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I thought they were so precious and beautiful that I wanted to give them to all of the soldiers on Fort Bragg,” she said.

But how?

Gray met with Pat Hash, command chaplain for the 18th Airborne Corps. “But I don’t think he knew how serious this woman was,” Gray recalled, laughing.

So serious, she traded in her sedan for a Toyota 4Runner large enough for the towering stacks of cardboard boxes she often carried into the post office. She even dedicated a room in her Fayetteville house for the ministry’s many packages and supplies. But that was only the beginning.

Operation Bandanas currently has an executive committee with 11 board members plus a diverse group of volunteers, military wives, senior citizens and veterans who regularly assist with folding and packaging the bandanas. As a result, more than 62,000 bandanas have been delivered throughout Iraq, Afghanistan and across the nation.

Although the demand has increased dramatically, members of Operation Bandanas are not intimidated. Rather, they embrace these requests and lay their hands upon every cardboard box as Gray prays for each soldier who will receive a bandana.

“We try to envision the young man or woman who will receive the bandana,” Gray said. “Our prayer and hope is that a young man or woman who has never opened a Bible will read this Psalm and because God says His word will not return void, it will lead them to open a Bible.”

Jeffrey Hawkins, a former brigade combat team chaplain for the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, received a bandana shortly before he left for Iraq.

“What makes it more than special to me is that totally unknown to me, my wife, Lori, memorized Psalm 91 and for 15 months, every day I was gone, she knelt and prayed that Psalm over me,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful wife or a greater gift than her blessing me invisibly with God’s touch through that Psalm.”

During the months of battle that followed, an estimated 4,000 bandanas were dispersed throughout his brigade. Hawkins said each bandana’s Psalm was a constant reminder of hope.

“Hope that they are not forgotten by the land they’ve left to defend and for which they are sacrificing,” he said. “Hope that they are not forgotten by a God who loves them and wants to hold them through some very tough times. Hope that there is a life after the war, and ultimately, hope that there is life after death, through a saving relationship with a God who loves them.”

Vanessa Forbes, a platoon leader at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq, requested bandanas for her entire platoon.

“I wanted bandanas for my guys because having a religious scripture brings us comfort when we are outside the wire, and it will hopefully remind my soldiers to pray,” she said.

“The most important part of this ministry to us is to remember that God is with us through this entire trial in Iraq.”

But the ministry also reaches deeply into the heart of our community. Operation Bandanas board member Carol Quigg was leaving a local restaurant when she walked past a group of soldiers that would soon be deployed. Quigg remembered the stack of bandanas she had at home and offered them on the spot.

As word of Operation Bandanas continues to spread, a group in Georgia opened a chapter there, and requests for bandanas keep pouring in.

“This Psalm is a great source of inspiration,” Gray said. “I like to think of God as our refuge – that secret place you can go where you’re protected.It’s just a beautiful picture of how God hovers over His children.

“It’s exciting when you’re doing something bigger than yourself. It’s a faith builder. Get out of the way, let God do His work, and join Him in it.”