National award recognizes U.S. Army Europe family’s service

By U.S. Army Europe Public Affairs
Dec. 9, 2010

The Campbell family -- mom Tawny and daughters Rhynli (left) and Ceilidha work together on a task for the Project Rudolph charity they support. (U.S. Army photo by Rick Scavetta)
The Campbell family -- mom Tawny and daughters Rhynli (left) and Ceilidha work together on a task for the Project Rudolph charity they support. (U.S. Army photo by Rick Scavetta)

LANDSTUHL, Germany -- The first morning light creeps through Tawny Campbell’s window as she turns on her bedroom light, keeping her eyes closed in prayer.

Her thoughts for the Almighty mesh into a silent conversation with her husband, Sgt. Joe Campbell, an Army flight medic serving his second combat tour in Afghanistan. She clings to her necklace pendant, a Scottish thistle that reminds her of Joe and their traditional Scottish wedding 10 years earlier.

“Who can I serve today? How can I make a difference in someone’s life? What can I do for you, Joe?” Tawny whispers. “Something to make it easier, something I can do here.”

Her daughters, Ceilidha and Rhynli, are waking up. She reminds them they will be stuffing gift bags bound for deployed Soldiers via Project Rudolph – one of three charities the Campbell family manages. Operation Angel gifts bring cheer to wounded, sick and injured troops at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Project Portrait offers military families portraits prior to deployments and baby photos for mothers who deliver while their spouses are deployed.

For their efforts, the National Military Family Association recently named the Campbell family the Army Family of the Year. On Dec. 7, they were Stateside to accept the award. Even Joe got a break from his tour in Afghanistan to attend.

“We’re just the figurehead of a larger group of people who support us and support Soldiers,” Tawny said. “It’s not our name, it’s our volunteering. For those who volunteer, this recognition is just as much for them as it for us.”
The association’s website says the award program recognizes “strong military families who embrace their service to the nation, are role models in their community, and understand that together they are stronger.” A friend from Fort Benning, Ga. nominated the Campbells, whose commitment to serving the military goes back several years.

Joe and Tawny, both from small towns in southern Idaho – he from Juniper, she from Oakley -- met in high school. In 2001, after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, Joe’s National Guard unit was protecting a Utah chemical depot. That Christmas, while Joe voluntarily took guard duty for a friend, a first sergeant in a Santa suit delivered Joe his first Red Cross package. Inside was a letter from a boy named Nathan, thanking him for his service to America.

“Joe kept that letter. It meant a lot to him,” Tawny said. “We know the power of a handwritten letter at Christmas.”

By 2006, Joe was on active duty in Landstuhl. It was the Campbells’ first Christmas overseas, away from family, Tawny said. One early winter afternoon, while driving past the Burger King on nearby Ramstein Air Base, the spirit of giving crept into their car. Tawny blurted out an idea.

“Let’s hand out gift bags at the air terminal,” she said.

“How will we do that?” Joe asked, shooting her a puzzled look.

“Well figure it out,” she replied.

That year they passed out a hundred bags to troops at the Ramstein passenger terminal. Now Project Rudolph is a full-scale operation with the power of family bridging the Atlantic to support the effort.
Back home in Idaho, Tawny’s brother, Ian, made it his Eagle Scout project. Her parents, Ray and Cheri Archibald, now run the stateside operation. This year, her parents are overseeing the preparation of 7,000 bags for troops.

Even while deployed, Joe helps pass out bags in Afghanistan, as he did during a previous 15-month tour in Iraq. Days are often very busy for Soldiers serving with Company C, 1st Battalion, 214th Aviation Regiment, a U.S. Army Europe helicopter unit that provides medical evacuation for coalition forces.

Joe’s mornings also begin in prayer. He’ll look over scriptures while snacking from a care package from Tawny. One morning Joe’s stocking medical supplies; on another, he’s helping to rescue wounded comrades from the battlefield.

When medical evacuations missions arise, the rotors on the UH-60 Blackhawk pound through the air with an urgency that can mean life or death. On one recent mission, Joe’s crew was off to Marjah, where patrolling Marines came across a young boy injured in a motorcycle accident. Joe helped open the boy’s airway while flying to the hospital. After a quick resupply, his air ambulance was once again aloft – back to Marjah to pick up an Afghan interpreter with an infected gunshot wound.

Three thousand miles away at the Ramstein Air Base food court, Tawny oversees volunteers stuffing Project Rudolph gift bags. Nearby, kids color Christmas scenes onto brown lunch bags. Each decorated bag then gets a handwritten note, a little bit of candy and a hand-made ornament. When the bag-stuffing morning is over, 700 bags are ready to ship.

By Christmas, 15,000 bags will be in the hands of troops as far away as Kyrgyzstan. Others will go to military bases in Kuwait, Iraq, Djibouti, Diego Garcia, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

As Project Rudolph gift bags make their way to deployed troops, Operation Angel gifts bring cheer to the wounded, sick and injured undergoing treatment in Landstuhl. More than once, Tawny and her daughters have met someone who was evacuated from an Afghan battlefield by Sgt. Joe Campbell.

“It shows the power of a family,” Tawny said. “He helps to heal them, physically, we help by healing their hearts. He gives them bandages. We give them smiles.”

In September, Ceilidha spent time cheering up a Soldier who was shot in Iraq. Afterward, he gave Ceilidha his Purple Heart medal. Tawny insisted he take it back.

“No, it’s just a medal,” the Soldier told Tawny. “Every time I close my eyes I think about being shot. I spent a time with you and your daughter, and I haven’t thought about it once. That means more.”

Interactions like that motivate Tawny and her girls to continue. Ceilidha might break out a deck of cards or read from her favorite book, Shel Silverstein’s “Where The Sidewalk Ends.” A Marine once gave her his rank insignia, but she’s glad to just see troops smile, Ceilidha said.

“I like to do service,” Ceilidha said. “It gives me a warm feeling inside.”

Raised among charity projects, the girls don’t know how to spend the holidays any other way, a fact that Tawny says she loves. Christmas is spent at the hospital, visiting patients. So is every Thanksgiving, Easter and Veterans Day, Tawny said.

“As a family, you can go out and do these things,” Tawny said. “Serve as a family.