They are unflinching in the face of the danger. They are tireless and stoic. They perform any mission — whether patrolling at the tip of the spear or riding a desk in the rear — without complaint. They deploy and they sacrifice.
They are, in short, the best that America’s garden supply stores have to offer.
“One survived an IED,” said Sgt. First Class Alex Porter, who works at the Oregon National Guard Armory in The Dalles. “And I heard one didn’t make it.”
The combat gnomes come from the active mind of RaeLynn Ricarte, mother of a Marine and president of the Gorge Heroes Club, which organizes drives to send cards, letters and packages for troops overseas. She saw a television commercial featuring a roaming garden gnome and, impulsively, ran down to a garden store and bought 15 of them.
Her idea was to send them to troops with connections to the gorge — Marines in Afghanistan, Oregon Army National Guard soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, an Air Force armaments technician in Afghanistan and others — and conduct a photo contest.
The troops have responded enthusiastically, for the most part.
“We are the recipients of two of your Combat Gnomes and I must say, excited to get the party started,” wrote a soldier from an engineering company at Forward Operating Base Orgun-E in Afghanistan, who sent back a few pictures of his company’s two gnomes with the company guidon, or flag. “What an awesome idea!”
Ricarte worked with Porter, who is connected to Oregon’s 3rd Battalion, 116th Brigade. Porter is part of the rear detachment for the battalion, which is close to finishing its tour in which it escorted supply convoys through Iraq.
He constructed “rules of engagement” for the troops receiving combat gnomes. (Sample: “Feel free to portray your gnome in combat settings that are both real and fictitious but grounded in reality. This includes any awards your embedded gnome has earned, i.e., decorations for valor, etc. You should also truthfully state if your gnome has been subjected to disciplinary action.”)
Throughout July, the photos have been shooting across the Internet and back to the Gorge, where they are posted on the Gorge Heroes Club website and Facebook page.
The Facebook page also features many shots of “Homey,” the gnome left behind as a sort of ambassador for his deployed comrades. Through the first few weeks of July, Homey has been in the possession of The Dalles Mayor Jim Wilcox, who escorted him to multiple public events and reminded the curious that they should send cards or letters to deployed troops.
Reached by mobile phone Thursday, Wilcox admitted that he was unaccompanied by Homey. But he said that was because he was walking his dog and he thought he would need both hands to attend to the dog’s activities. Otherwise, he said, Homey has attended parades, softball games, Kiwanis meetings and rodeos. And the photos on Facebook prove it.
“He’s kind of getting pretty well-known,” Wilcox said. “He’s really made people aware.”
Ricarte, whose son is a Marine captain heading for his fifth deployment, couldn’t be happier.
In an email, she wrote: “I have learned, through my son, how important it is to be able to laugh even in the midst of life-threatening situations.”
She is looking forward to the conclusion of the photo contest in the coming weeks. The Gorge Heroes Club plans to send tobacco and other items for the winners to throw a Texas Hold ’em poker party. Back home in the gorge, the winning photos will go up on a billboard.
“Most of them are pretty young kids who need to have fun out there,” she said.