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Debi Win'E with Picture of son Sfc Trevor Win'E

Providing Cooling Vest for Troops in Iraq

Vested interest in son's memory
Orange mother's gift touched off a campaign to give cooling devices to U.S. troops in Iraq.

By GWENDOLYN DRISCOLL
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

ORANGE – He wasn't wearing the vest when his truck exploded, not that it would have helped. But it became a way to heal for the grieving family of Trevor Anthony Win'E, who died in April when his armored vehicle hit an explosive device near Mosul, Iraq.

"Every day I cry," said Trevor's mother, Debi Win'E, as she fingered the desert camouflage military vest that was shipped back to her with the rest of her son's personal effects after the 22-year-old Army specialist's death. "But we are going to keep on going, which I think honors him."

Her granddaughter, Madison, 7, pulled a packet of what looked like large ravioli out of the vest's pocket and displayed the cold, gelatinous substance within. The vest was covered with pockets containing these strange, whitesquares - a chemical coolant that stays frozen for hours even in Iraq's hellish 120-degree summer heat.

The vest, part of a specially constructed "Modular Combat Cooling System" that includes a helmet liner and neck scarf, was one of Win'E's last gifts to her son. To her surprise, it became a gift that family, friends and dozens of people she has never met are bestowing on more than 850 other soldiers.

"That's truly what it's been - word of mouth," said Win'E. Nearly $30,000 has flowed into the Trevor Win'E Memorial Fund, a trust she and her husband, Rick, set up to purchase the high-tech, lightweight cooling system for soldiers in Iraq. "People I don't even know - people from all over Orange County - have contributed."

The vest is the brainchild of an Ohio-based cooling-technology company and an Army psychiatrist who observed the dangerous disorientation suffered by soldiers in Iraq's withering heat. Together, they created a vest and other articles of clothing, including detachable sleeves and a beanie, that help keep troops cool under the 50 pounds or more of armor and equipment they carry.

The unofficial saleswoman is the Old Towne Orange mom with bright blue eyes like her son's and a closet full of condolence letters and gifts.

"She dramatically affected my business," said Tom Strussion, president of Mist'n Go, the company that helped create the vest from an original design by Army Maj. Colin Daniels.

It has sold nearly 1,000 of the vests, with Win'E's help. "The word has spread from Washington to Fort Bragg, N.C., and different places all over the country.

"But she's had more effect on me personally than anything."

Strussion first heard from Win'E in February when she ordered an "Iraq Pack" - which includes a cooling vest, helmet liner and neckband - for her son.

The vest contains lightweight, reusable chemical packs manufactured to freeze solid without benefit of refrigeration.

"You can put it inwater, in an air conditioning duct, and in 20 minutes they're solid again," said Strussion, who tested the cooling efficiency of his product on a fully-armored volunteer doing push-ups, squats, and knee-bends - in a sauna.

Similar technology has been used before, notably by athletes competing in Athens' scorching heat during this summer's Olympic Games. But none suited the special needs of the military, particularly the need for lightness, according to Daniels.

"Imagine being in body armor carrying ammunition and 15 pounds of water," Daniels said. "You feel like a piece of fried chicken."

When Debi Win'E first asked her son if he wanted the vest, his answer was negative.

"This was before it got really hot," she said. "Then a week later (Trevor) called me back and said: 'Can I still get that vest?'"

In May, Strussion received an e-mail from Debi Win'E requesting more information. Worried, he made a phone call that he said continues to affect him profoundly.

"She was very upbeat," recalled Strussion. "I said: We sent Trevor the vest, did he get it?"

"Oh yeah, he got it, he loved it," she responded.

Strussion persisted. Was there a problem with the vest, he asked?

The conversation, and her demeanor, was so sunny that Strussion wasn't prepared for her response.

"We buried Trevor last week," Debi Win'E said.

"I think I kind of knocked the wind out of him," she recalled this week, with a rueful laugh. "He had to put down the phone and call me back."

When he did, a plan was hatched. Debi Win'E and her family wanted to outfit Trevor's entire unit with cooling vests.

Strussion offered to kick in an extra vest for every 10 ordered and to cut the cost of the vest from the retail price of $225 to $125 for military orders.

Debi Win'E was no activist intent on starting an organization - the idea was to spend the money and be done with it.

The money, however, kept coming.

Families talked with families, friends with friends - and the news spread. A widely circulated e-mail describing the fund brought in a $2,000 contribution from a local golf club. Dollars arrived in the mail to supplement other tokens of support, often left anonymously on Debi Win'E's front porch, including crystal sculptures and crocheted angels.

An interview Debi Win'E gave to a newspaper near Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Wash., where Trevor's 24th Quartermaster unit is based, prompted a large number of inquiries.

"(Debi and Rick) have no idea who some of these people were, and they never will," said Trevor's godmother, Irene Cassara. "But they gave from their heart. It's something tangible. It's a perfect way to honor (Trevor) and to honor our guys in Iraq."

"I think it's incredible," Debi Win'E said. "We think we live in such a crummy world, and it's really not as crummy as we thought."

She and her family have received dozens of letters of thanks from soldiers who received vests, including every member of her son's unit.

"It will be very helpful as the temperatures reach highs that you can't believe," wrote Spc. Ryan Manthey.

"I definitely needed it in Iraq because it is so hot over here," wrote another soldier, who signed his name "SPC Underwood" on his thank-you card.

The "Iraq Pack" is now Mist'n Go's No. 1-selling item. In the eight months since the product became available, Strussion estimated that more than 8,000 have been shipped to Iraq.

Trevor's fund accounts for about 10 percent of that total.

"It does make me feel better to know we're supporting them," said Win'E, who places a letter in every vest purchased through the fund asking soldiers leaving Iraq to pass their vest on to new arrivals.

"I hope we can get as many over there as possible."
TO CONTACT DEBIEWINE@SBCGLOBAL.NET


TO DONATE WHAT GOD' WILL IS FOR YOU MAKE CHECK OUT TO TREVOR WIN'E MEMORIAL FUND MAIL TO PO BOX 34 NORCO CA 92860

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BATTLEFIELD MINISTRIES
PO BOX 34
NORCO CA 92860
951.734.2237