Eastman employee knows their importance first-hand.

The boxes arrived in Europe in December 2018, and Staff Sgt. Travis Coomer and his Army buddies took them to their barracks to see what was inside. For more than a year, the infantry platoon Coomer led would be back and forth between countries throughout Eastern Europe, even skirting right up to the Russian border in Ukraine while conducting deterrence missions as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve. 

         To help Supplies for Soldiers:

  • Donate items by Dec. 2
  • If you want to make a financial donation, click here.

Coomer formed memories he will never forget. A few of the strongest deal with the contents of those boxes that came to his unit. Some of the senders he knew and loved. Some were strangers. This year, he and other Eastman EVETS members are determined to help others experience the kindness he felt through Supplies for Soldiers. 

“What I got meant so much to me; my wife at the time had sent me a tiny little Christmas tree, and in the Supplies for Soldiers box, there were four ornaments that my kids made,” he says. “But some people my age had no kids back home. They had no family. They had no one sending them letters or anything. When they received that box, it meant everything. And we shared everything.” 

Committed to veterans

It’s a Monday and Coomer, 30, is spending a day off work at the Supplies for Soldiers headquarters, stationed in an Eastman building in Kingsport, Tennessee. A team manager at Eastman’s Kingsport manufacturing site, Coomer is also a leader for EVETS, an Eastman resource group focused on ensuring veterans are fully engaged and their unique skills are valued. 

Since 2009, Eastman’s Supplies for Soldiers has sent packages of needed items to military personnel deployed during the holiday season. With December approaching, EVETS needs more donations to fill Supplies for Soldiers boxes that will make the holidays better for 100 or more military service members. Financial donations that help with shipping expenses are also welcome; click here to donate. 

What might be included in those boxes? It’s an extensive list, and you can view a wish list here. Clearly marked barrels are sprinkled throughout Northeast Tennessee to receive toothbrushes, razors, and other toiletries; packaged food; and DVDs, books, and playing cards. From his experience of winters in Eastern Europe, Coomer will tell anyone that donated blankets matter too.

“We spent a lot of time across Europe,” he remembers. “And it’s sad because, in Ukraine, there were good people, good bases — and some of them are gone.”

Everyday items that many of us take for granted do matter, especially personal touches that provide an echo of home like cards, notes or drawings. Coomer gestures around an expansive room that has plastic tubs on shelves labeled with items such as candy, jerky, peanuts, baby wipes, food powder, body soap and more. Some tubs have plenty. Most are still empty.

“When we’re here, it’s so easy to get what you need for day-to-day life. But that isn’t always the case when you’re deployed,” says Coomer, now with the Army National Guard. "When I talk about Supplies for Soldiers, I think some folks think: ‘There’s not a big war going on that we’re fighting in; we don’t have that many people deployed anymore.’ But people deploy every day. I have a guy that works for me at Eastman, and he just worked his last shift — and then he left to deploy out of Knoxville for two years.”

Forging a lasting bond

When service members gather to open boxes, share the contents, or tape holiday cards to a door or wall, they know they are not forgotten. Coomer remembers a friend opening a box with cards, letters and drawings from elementary and middle school kids. 

Holiday cards and drawings from Supplies for Soldiers on service member's door.

“One of the drawings he received was from my daughter,” Coomer says with a smile. “He was a sergeant from Tennessee, so he shared all of his stuff with his guys, and he kept the scraps. He was super excited about the drawings — he had been deployed four times — and I’ve got a photo of the drawings he hung on his door. My daughter’s drawing was there.”

He taps his phone on the table in front of him and smiles faintly. 

“I keep a photo of him with that box in my phone. That picture I have with him and that box, it was maybe the last photo of him over there — because he’s not with us anymore. He came home, he lost the battle, and he took his own life. I still look at that picture. I got to share it with his family. I share it with friends and other people who were with us there.”

Coomer knows well the deep importance of Supplies for Soldiers.

“What we’re doing here — what people are doing when they donate — it’s creating memories for the people who receive those boxes,” he says. “Those memories don’t fade.”