CAMP RIPLEY -- When 2-year-old Brianna Marshik of Little Falls walked into the Education Center at Camp Ripley Monday with her dad and sister she thought she was going to finally see her mom.
Her mother was not there, but she was given an Easter basket instead to help get her mind off of missing her mother.
Brianna's mother, Kathy Marshik, left home Jan. 29 to go to Kuwait with the Army National Guard's Company C, 142nd Engineer Battalion, based at Camp Ripley.
Several families gathered Monday at Camp Ripley to pick up Easter baskets made by the Walker community. The community made 36 Easter baskets filled with chocolate goodies and stuffed bunnies for children who have a parent deployed from Camp Ripley or Duluth.
Lt. Col. Kelly Nelson's wife, Jeanne Nelson, Walker, came up with the idea to make Easter baskets.
"Our son went to Afghanistan last year and as parents we understand when a soldier goes into a dangerous situation," said Kelly Nelson, who also teaches at the Walker-Hackensack-Akeley School District. "We can't do much for the soldiers, but we can do something for the families, especially the children.
"We understand when a spouse has so much on their mind that the little things can be forgotten and we thought we'd make Easter baskets to show our support."
Jeanne Nelson said businesses and residents in Walker stepped up and offered donations for the baskets.
"We need to do anything we can to support the families who are left behind," said Nelson. "We need to encourage others to do anything they can, too, even if it is a little thing because these things add up."
Nelson said the baskets are fun for the children and it is one less added expense for the family member at home.
Brianna's dad, Glen Marshik, said since his wife left for Kuwait he has been busy taking care of Brianna and her 6-year-old sister Sierra.
"I do a lot of running," he said. "It makes for long days."
Marshik said Sierra knows where her mom is, but Brianna doesn't. He said they don't ask too many questions.
"It's tough," he said. "This is the longest where we haven't talked. Hopefully things go fast and she'll come back home."
Debra Eklund, Cushing, picked up an Easter basket for her 16-month-old grandson, Matthew Blair. Her daughter and son-in-law, Shanell and Joshua Blair of El Paso, Texas, were unable to take care of their son and asked Eklund to look after Matthew.
Shanell Blair is stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, in the Mobilization Reserve Component Support Unit, and Joshua Blair is in Baghdad with the 208th Signal Co.
Eklund said she has two children at home, ages 15 and 17, and getting used to taking care of a toddler again has been hard. She flew to Texas to pick up Matthew Feb. 12.
"He's been adjusting really well," Eklund said of Matthew. "I just saw him at Christmas so he knows me."
Eklund and her husband own a business so they have the ability to rearrange their schedules to take care of Matthew. Matthew goes to day care two days a week.
"I feel lucky to have the opportunity to take care of the little one," said Eklund. "Not too many grandparents can do that."
Eklund said having the Walker community make the Easter baskets for the children was wonderful.
"I was surprised," she said. "It is nice that everyone is thinking of the kids left behind."
Eklund said her daughter is having a hard time being away from her son and husband. Blair was able to fly to Cushing to see her son for a weekend that was well worth the trip, said Eklund.
1st Sgt. Wayne Liljegren with the 142nd Battalion, who was not deployed, helped deliver the Easter baskets. Liljegren said anything people can do to make things easier for the children or spouses who were left home is great.
Liljegren said it's tough for the families. He said there are 142 children who were left by soldiers who are based at Camp Ripley.
Yvonne Zappa, coordinator of the Family Assistance Center at Camp Ripley, said the unit is available to help families who have a family member deployed. She said the support unit can assist with various needs, which may include rent, groceries or tuning up a lawn mower.
Zappa sent an e-mail to families asking who would need an Easter basket and received 22 responses through Camp Ripley.
Community members wishing to make a donation or families needing assistance may call Zappa at (320) 632-7027.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.