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13 airmen overseas, 1 in States chosen for 'wish list'

| Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Volunteers for Operation Christmas Wish with Unity, A Journey of Hope wrapped and packed gifts for a group of airmen from the 911th Security Wing from Pittsburgh and their loved ones. They include (from left, standing) Russell King, Taylor Smith with the Laurel Highland Air Force Jr. ROTC; volunteers Dave Timko, Steve Smith; American Legion Post 51 Commander George Dextras; Jr. ROTC members John Conner, Krystal Zueger, Heather Ritchie, (from left, kneeling) Joshua Johnson; Unity President John Robinson; and Jr. ROTC member Brian Piwowar.

A local organization is helping a troops serving in harm's way by sending them Christmas presents as a special thank-you.

Unity, A Journey of Hope — a nonprofit organization that grants wishes to adults with life-limiting illnesses — recently held a gift-wrapping and box-packing event at American Legion Post 51 in Uniontown for 13 airmen from the 911th Security Wing from Pittsburgh.

John Robinson, co-founder and president of the organization, said its Operation Christmas Wish received no requests this year from for adults with life-limiting illnesses. With Robinson's son, Jason, deployed in Saudi Arabia, the organization changed this year's Operation Christmas Wish.

“We decided to adopt those 13 men,” John Robinson said.

The 13 men and one airman in the United States and their loved ones will receive a care package full of presents is usually for adults with life-limiting illnesses, but they donated by some recognizable names.

Poison lead singer and Pittsburgh native Bret Michaels provided autographed shirts and backstage passes; players from the D.C. United soccer team also donated autographed items; and former Pirates Pitcher Kent Tekulve autographed shirts for each of the airmen.

“He gave so much of his time for the morale of the troops,” Robinson said of Tekulve.

Robinson added that one donation of an X-Box 360 video-game system was from a man that spoke to Robinson's wife at Wal-Mart during Black Friday. After the man learned of what the group was doing, he handed Robinson's wife the game system as a donate gift.

“Everyone in line started clapping,” Robinson said.

Robinson said that his son serving overseas and reporting to his parents what the troops experience has hit home and makes the organization's operation that much more important.

“We're proud parents of Jason and all his crew,” Robinson said.

Along with the organization's volunteers, members of the Laurel Highlands High School Air Force Jr. ROTC and American Legion Post 51 helped with stuffing the packages. Robinson said he expects the packages to reach Saudi Arabia in time for Christmas.

The airmen's loved ones of those airmen will receive their gifts on Christmas Eve.

Mark Hofmann is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-626-3539 or mhofmann@tribweb.com.

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