Each holiday season, a Ramstein Air Base, Germany master sergeant’s wife sent stockings to deployed Air Force members. Since her death two years ago, Master Sgt. Lee “Pepper” Spaulding has continued her holiday tradition.
“She was my best friend for 27 years,” said Spaulding, a 24th Intelligence Squadron member at Ramstein. “Jenny made me a better man. This is what she would have wanted done, so this is why I’m doing it.”
It started in 2004, while Spaulding was deployed to Southwest Asia. His wife, Jenny, started simple, making stockings to send in place of care packages.
“I was deployed with approximately 50 people, and Jenny sent more than 100 stockings,” he said. “Our job was to give them out to the people around us.”
After Spaulding came back from deployment, his wife decided to expand their project. With help from members of his unit, the Spauldings were able to fund Jennywings Holiday Stockings.
“We made enough for Airmen deployed from our unit and decided to send some to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Va.,” he said.
For the Spauldings, reaching a fraction of service members was not enough. They were ready to spread their holiday cheer across the world.
“My wife wanted to come here to do the stockings,” said Spaulding. “This is where all of the wounded come through, and she wanted to support as many of them as possible.”
However, Jenny wasn’t able to see her goal accomplished. In April 2009, she lost her battle with bone cancer.
“Six months after she passed away, I got orders to come here,” Spaulding said. “Coming here was truly a unique opportunity that I had to take.”
Spaulding took to the sewing machine and continued his wife’s dream.
“A big reason I continue doing this is because it’s how I work out my grief,” Spaulding said. “Continuing this project is what she would have wanted me to do.”
Spaulding began working on the stockings as soon as he settled here. With the help of a long-time friend, he was able to expand the project.
“I have volunteered for what feels like my entire life, and this is one of the most rewarding for me,” said Linda Towne, a supervisor at the Ramstein base exchange. “Being able to support our service members, injured and deployed, really does mean a lot to me.”
As far as production of the stockings goes, there’s been a lot of improvement.
“Last year we did about 200 stockings, which included our group, a unit in Hawaii, the wounded warrior Christmas party put together by the United Services Organization, and the Combat Aeromedical Staging Facility,” Spaulding said.
With more than 500 stockings already made this year, Spaulding and his partner sought help.
“This year we have invited the community to help. We work long hours, have doubled last year’s stockings and added downrange hospitals,” Towne said. “Next year, given the willingness of volunteers, we hope to double this year’s numbers as well.”
The difference between a conventional care package and these stockings is simple – the look.
“These are easy. When you walk into some places, and there is a big box of care packages, it could look intimidating,” Spaulding said. “We made the stockings small, giving us the option to tailor them to the person receiving it.”
Service members should not be fooled by the size, the cost of an average stocking is triple the amount of an average care package.
“The total amount donated this year so far is near $10,000,” Spaulding said. “I have spent between $800-1000 on fabric myself, and that’s only around a third of the total cost for the fabric.”
Once all the stockings are made, they are sent out to a variety of agencies and locations. Jennywings Holiday Stockings works with Soldiers Angels, the USO, a hospital located at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, as well as deployed service members downrange.
For Senior Airman Steve Johnson, a 24th Intelligence Squadron geospatial analyst, receiving a stocking broke up the everyday routine that comes with being deployed.
“I received a Jennywings stocking last Christmas while in Iraq,” Johnson said. “When I received it, it momentarily stopped time and put me in the holiday spirit. Small things like this remind us that there are people back home who are thinking about us.”
Providing service members with a morale boost during the holiday season is something that Spaulding hopes to continue for a long time.
“I plan on doing this for years, eventually retiring here for a while,” Spaulding said. “But, while I’m here, I’m going to be doing this.”
Spaulding hopes that the Jennywings Holiday Stocking program will keep his wife’s memory alive with every stocking sent.