A Soldier's Helping Hands

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A Rockford man returns home after four months of military duty in Afghanistan. And while he was there, he went far beyond the call of duty.

When Lt. Col. John Gessner arrived in Afghanistan, he was disturbed by what he saw, in particular, the thousands of children who are now growing up as orphans. Gessner says it was at one of these orphanages he found his mission. "I was surprised when I got there. I mean I knew that there were going to be orphans, but I never knew how they were going to affect us."

Already making a career out of helping kids here in Rockford, through boy scouts and his faith, Gessner felt right at home helping the orphans of Afghanistan. "We sat right on the floor with them and they'd climb up on our laps and take our hats off. And then we'd swap hats."

It was through an e-mail home to friends as well as co-workers at Rockford's Department of Public Works, that Gessner made his request, help make an Afghan child smile by a simple donation. "They liked stuffed animals, pens and bottled water. One time we actually ran out of pens and all I had left was a [Rockford Mayor] Doug Scott pen. So, one of the boys has a Doug Scott pen."

More than $5,000 and at least 200 boxes of toys later, Gessner feels he is doing his best to help the children of a war torn country and bridge the gap between two nations. "I think they'll remember that the Americans tried to help them. We brought them food when they were hungry, coat when they were cold, sleeping bags and clothing."

Gessner is set to return to duty sometime later this month, this time traveling to Kuwait. As for any other missions like this one, he says he's up to it.