Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Elke's Story from Afghanistan

I had a wonderful chat with Elke Landenberger, who also serves in our military. A while back, she sent us a postcard from Afghanistan, thanking us for getting her yarn to her, and telling us how her knitting helps her deal with the stress she experiences in a war zone. Her postcard made us cry. We kept it up on our bulletin board for a long time to remind us that others are risking their lives for us. While we're humbled by people who sacrifice so much, we're very honored to do what we can to help them -- even if that just means getting yarn to them halfway around the world.

Our good friend, Elizabeth Palmer, wrote this story about Elke's experiences:

Uniform stitches

Yarnmarket regularly gets orders for knitting supplies from women deployed overseas in the US military.

Elke Landenberger is one of them – now safely back from a 15-month mission in Afghanistan. Like many of us, she knits to relieve stress – but the kind and intensity of stress most of us will never have to face.

Elke was not only one of the Battle officers for her brigade, but also the Mortuary Affairs officer. That meant she responsible for dealing with all the human remains in her brigade’s area of operations.

“If we had local people die at the Field Hospital, or [U.S.] soldiers get killed by IEDs or in a fire fight I would receive, process and evacuate the bodies to the … Bagram air base,” she writes.

To relieve tension off-duty, she knit in the tent and room that she shared with 11 others.

“During duty hours I couldn't knit. We're not even allowed to read non-military books or magazines on duty. But I always ensured that I made time for my knitting because it was one of the very few de-stressors that kept me moving.”

“I taught another soldier - a girlfriend - to knit the German way, and I knew of two more female soldiers in my battalion who were knitters too.”

In Afghanistan, where many women are skilled embroiderers, Elke even got a nod of recognition from the locals.

“As I sat outside my living quarters one day when it had warmed up, some Afghan workers went past, smiling and giving me the thumbs up.”

War zones are notorious for periods of frenzied, sometimes terrifying, action – followed by long spells of calm – even tedium. It was during the hundreds of hours of quiet time that Elke turned out a stream of garments.

“Many hats, which started out as a project for a friend with cancer and then turned into gifts for Christmas. Also scarves, sweaters and cardigans, lots of socks, a blanket for myself for the winter and blankets for animal shelters.”

“I liked knitting socks for some reason. I think it was because I could use crazy colors and actually wear them as opposed to the other projects that never got worn until I left the war zone.”

”The really tricky part was finding enough time to knit. Or the times when the power went out and it would be pitch black since we had to have our windows painted black.”

“Or when the mail would take longer than usual and I had to stretch a project out until the new shipment of yarn would arrive.”

Our sincere thanks to Liz and Elke...
Every once in a while it's good to think about those who serve our country, and often other countries around the world, through their work in the armed forces and the news media. We owe a debt of gratitude to those brave men and women who travel to places that we wouldn't dare to venture. Let's hope that their efforts bring about changes that -- ultimately -- restore order and peace to the world.

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