Oregon 'Combat Gnomes' deploy to Iraq, Afghanistan

Oregon 'Combat Gnomes' deploy to Iraq, Afghanistan »Play Video
Soldiers pose with gnomes sent from Oregon to help them break the monotony and let them know people back home are thinking about them.

HOOD RIVER, Ore. – A photo contest that started here is helping break the monotony for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it's letting those in harm's way know people are thinking about them.

Fifteen garden gnomes went out last month from The Dalles.

Those combat gnomes have really caught on with the soldiers, because the group called The Gorge Heroes Club asked them to take snapshots of their gnomes and send them back home as part of the contest.

Soldiers have posed them on everything they can find. The gnomes have appeared in photos fixing engines and clowning around with soldiers.

At first, Cpl. Jordan Waller from Elgin, Ore., with the Oregon National Guard in Balad, Iraq, didn't know what to make of the gnomes.

"There was a lot of speculation as to whether somebody had just cleaned out their garage and wanted to be nice and send us something to give us a laugh or what the deal was," he said via Skype on Tuesday while showing off his gnome. "But once we read the directions, it was kind of funny."

He said the gnomes have been all over the base, gone out on missions and have been taken as far as Baghdad.

Raelynn Ricarte from The Dalles started it as a service of her own.

"They're fighting this war. Where you and I are sitting here talking, men are out fighting and some of those men aren't winning that fight," she said. "They live with that every day, but the average American never has to think about it."

One gnome nicknamed 'Homey' stayed home and is in the care of Hood River's mayor, Arthur Babitz, for now.

"Just the fact that there just this little piece of plastic is causing people to talk about the troops that we have overseas and to just to know that they're there," he said.

'Homey' isn't just staying in Hood River. He's also going to Portland and eventually to Congress as well. The campaign's goal is to get more people to remember the soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and to start a letter-writing campaign to those soldiers.

But in the battle zones, those other gnomes bring a little levity and a reminder of home to soldiers engaged in some very serious business.

"It was nice to know that some of the people back home were thinking about us and thought this might be kind of a fun way for us to break the monotony," said Waller. 

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