Four days. The length of a weekend sandwiched between two vacation days.
It's an insignificant time period to most Americans.
But for the members of the B Battery 1st Battalion 147th Field Artillery Unit of the South Dakota National Guard – and their families – each one of those four days will be savored.
B Battery's 185 soldiers will make it home in time for Christmas, thanks to the generosity of a Sioux Falls businessman and citizens in Vermillion and other local communities.
Several members of this National Guard unit are from southeastern South Dakota, including the Vermillion and Yankton areas.
They are currently at Camp Shelby, MI, completing two months of training before being stationed in Iraq, where they will serve for approximately a year.
"Here in Vermillion we're going to have a spaghetti feed and a silent auction on Dec. 15 at the Vermillion armory," said Melanie Zach, whose brother is a member of B Battery. "Serving will probably start around 4:30 p.m. and we'll hopefully wrap things up by 7:30 p.m. so the silent auction can begin."
The Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported on Nov. 22 that Sioux Falls businessman Dave Billion learned that efforts were underway to bring the soldiers home for Christmas. He said he knew bake sales weren't going to cover much of the cost.
"It's a pretty expensive proposition to bring 'em home," he told the Argus Leader. "The timing around Christmas and knowing people that have family members – we just felt it was a way for our Billion Automotive family to say thanks to the troops and their families."
The Billion Automotive family is covering half the cost of the $80,000 chartered 727 airplane that will allow the soldiers to spend four days with the families in late December.
The Mitchell community, Zach said, started Friends of B Battery to raise funds to bring the troops home.
"Mitchell is going to have rummage sales and silent auctions on Dec. 7, and Sioux Falls is also having a silent auction and rummage sales on Dec. 8," she said. "In Yankton, they had mothers of some of soldiers stationed at different businesses and they rang bells and raised money doing that."
"Several businesses and artists are participating," she said. "We've gotten several items donated by artists that local people will recognize."
Jolene Steffen of Crofton, NE, who has gained notoriety with her paintings of people, flowers and local landscapes, will donate a piece of art.
"We're going to have several different pieces such as that, and then we've had other donations," Zach said. Jon Crane Galleries is also donating a print, and Tigert Art Gallery of Vermillion will provide a small Jon Crane print for the auction.
Amy Lawrence Photography of Sioux Falls is donating a portrait sitting and some free products.
The Best Western Kelly Inn and Minerva's, both of Yankton, have donated a combined package that includes a one-night stay at the motel and a $40 gift card from the restaurant.
"J&J Theatres of Vermillion have also made a donation," Zach said. "We've had several different donations that have been made – some are rather significant – and we're very grateful to receive this help and assistance from so many people. It's pretty exciting to have so much support from the businesses in our community," she said.
These gifts have special meaning, she said, since they will bring local soldiers home to enjoy Christmas before their year-long deployment in Iraq.
"Coming home is going to be a great gift for the soldiers and their families," Zach said.
For more information, contact Georgia Holt at (605) 996-2943, or Zach at (712) 389-0339.