TOPPENISH - When Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Davison alerted his parents that he was headed to Iraq, he told them there was only one thing he really wanted them to do for him.
"He told us he wanted a satellite phone so he could keep in touch with his wife and children," said his father, Jim Davison of Toppenish.
But when Davison and his wife, Margaret (Ermey) Davison, checked into the cost of purchasing the communication device, they found the cost of the phone to be more than $1,300 for a single unit, not counting the $1 per minute calling time.
Undeterred, the Toppenish couple decided the best thing to do was to establish a fund to raise money for what is now being called "Operation Call Home."
The project has taken on a life of its own, according to Davison. With the help of a number of Toppenish residents, including former Toppenish Mayor Al Hubert, the family has formed a non-profit agency to collect more than $1.5 million for the purpose of purchasing satellite phones for each platoon now stationed overseas.
"When Michael said he planned to share his satellite phone with the men in his platoon, it got us to thinking. Why not raise enough money so every platoon would have access to a satellite phone?," Davison said.
This Saturday, Davison and his wife will travel to Fort Lewis, where their son, a platoon leader with the 81st Armor Brigade, is now awaiting deployment to Iraq. Their son and his fellow soldiers will be taking part in a troop send-off ceremony to be held at the Tacoma Dome, before leaving for specialized training in California on Feb. 15. From there they, along with 3,000 members of the 81st Armor Brigade of the Washington National Guard, will face a year's separation from their families.
"It's our plan to present a satellite phone along with a calling card good for 3,000 pre-paid minutes to Michael's commanding officer, Brigadier General Hillman," Davison said.
Davison said Hillman and Brigadier General Gordon Toney, the commander of the Washington Army National Guard, have been very supportive of Operation Call Home. "They see it as a way to boost the morale of their troops," Davison said.
He is now encouraging other Lower Valley families of U.S. military personnel to help purchase more of the costly phones and calling cards for the young soldiers.
Davison said a 10-minute call home, via satellite, can cost as much as $10.
Davison has set up an account at the Toppenish branch of the Bank of America for Operation Call Home.
"But people interested in donating toward the cost of the phones or calling time may leave donations at any Bank of America branch," he said.
Donations may also be mailed to "Operation Call Home" at 101 Pearne St., Toppenish, Wa. 98948.
Davison has also established a web site at platoonphone.com with more information about the program.
. Julia Hart can be contacted at
(509) 837-4500, or you can e-mail her at email@example.com