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'Cool collars' help U.S. soldiers fight the heat

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Carey Moots

The cool collar is just one of many comfort items in the care packages that are sent to soldiers in Iraq.
June 28, 2006

A UMNS Feature
By Lilla Marigza*

Long sleeves, pants and body armor provide some protection for United States soldiers serving in Iraq... but do nothing to combat the heat. Average high temperatures in Baghdad run over 110 degrees during peak summer months. A little relief is always welcome.

A group of United Methodist women in New Mexico has found a simple, yet resourceful, way to help. It is a strip of khaki fabric that is more than two feet long and two inches wide with something extra sewn into a pocket in the center.

"See the crystals right in there? When it gets wet, it's cooling," says Billie Turner, a member of the United Methodist Women's Circle of Faith at First United Methodist Church, Roswell, N.M.

The crystals are the secret. The polymer granules, which expand when soaked in water, hold moisture. They're used sometimes in the gardening industry to keep soil moist.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Carey Moots

Cool Collars are filled with polymer granules that when soaked in water, help to keep the soldiers cool in the 110 degree desert heat.

"When you soak them for just a very short time they will expand and they will stay wet a whole day,"explains Onita Barkley. "They can wear them around their neck or they can put them in their helmet to help bring down their body temperature."

The ladies call them "cool collars." Barkley swears by them. "I used to use one myself when I lived in Arizona and did yard work. I always wore one and it always made me more comfortable."

The women have made dozens of cool collars. It's become an ongoing project for the United Methodist Women's Circle of Faith.

"We sent 106 two months ago through a United Methodist chaplain to distribute. I hope they are already there," says Barkley, chairwoman of the group.

On a recent weekend, a new batch of cool collars was being divided into care packages, each with a particular soldier in mind. As circle members assemble boxes, one shows off a photo, "This is my grandson-in-law Garrick Hendrickson ... and he's in the Army."

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Carey Moots

Onita Barkely (from left), Mary Blomstedt, and Nancy Smith prepare the "cool collar" care packages for shipment.

Bright blue and white, cardboard priority mail boxes are being packed tight with hand sanitizer, sunscreen, magazines and other things to provide comfort far from home. Donna Echols thinks of the men and women who will receive the gift boxes. “The neat thing is they can share with another friend who may not have gotten a box from home.”

The women know the cool collars and treats will be a welcome surprise but they add something extra—a personal note expressing thanks to service men and women who do so much.

Turner has chosen a card with a blue bird on the front. She reads aloud the message she has written inside, "First off, I put 'God loves you all. Thank you guys again. We are all so proud of you over there serving our country. You are in our prayers at First United Methodist Church and all over the country, in all different churches, we love you all. God bless, Billie Turner.'"

Circle of Faith members say sewing cool collars and collecting supplies is a small gesture but they know they are not alone. Barkley says there are a lot of United Methodist Women’s groups out there doing the same thing.

"It's my prayer that everyone over there would get a note, get a box, get something that just says I love you and God loves you."

*Marigza is a freelance producer in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or

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