The smiling lady in camouflage with the pretty purple yarn is Lt. Cmdr. Jennifer Almy, who is a physician in the US Navy. She’s also the organizer of the Combat Knitters.
For US troops serving overseas in Afghanistan, life is an endless round of khaki and homey comforts are hard to come by. But the Combat Knitters have found a way to bring a little joy and a little normalcy to their lives through craftwork.
According to the Washington Post, (in an article brought to my attention by the fabulous Fabrisse) the Combat Knitters range from their early twenties to their mid-fifties and are Navy corpsmen, physicians, and nurses. They even have their own patch that many wear on their uniforms, a pair of knitting needles crossed over the outline of Afghanistan.
Of course they can’t get their yarn and knitting needles from the base bazaars. These aren’t exactly the sorts of things the military would think of as a necessity, and well, I can’t exactly blame them for that, either. It’s not like yarn is food or water, after all, and they can’t supply the desires of every person on every base.
But that didn’t stop Jennifer Almy. Almy took up knitting three years ago to help strengthen her left wrist after surgery, and has been doing it ever since. Last summer she was at Fort Dix for some pre-deployment training when Capt. Michael McCarten noticed her knitting a green shawl. He promptly asked if she was a member of Ravelry. When Almy said yes, McCarten got her in touch with his wife, Kathleen Marra, who is part of a Ravelry group called Knitting in Alexandria.
When Almy told Marra about the number of servicewomen who were asking her for knitting lessons, Marra’s group ‘adopted’ Almy and her fellow service knitters. They began sending yarn from a local knitting shop.
Now Almy always carries both her stethoscope and her knitting pouch with her. When she has a few moments to spare or goes on a break, she can bring out a ball of brightly colored yarn and knit. Other members of the Combat Knitters use their yarn to break the tedium of waiting for transport, or to keep their hands busy on movie nights.
In a situation that many compare to living in Groundhog Day, the Bill Murray film in which he lives the same day over, and over, and over again, knitting helps these women stay grounded. They can measure actual progress in a situation where progress is hard to come by. They can control something in a place where so much is out of their control. They can look at something that isn’t khaki and isn’t regimented.
So what’s the moral of the story? Well, if you have a loved one serving overseas or if you contribute to care packages to support the troops, consider adding a ball of yarn, a couple of knitting needles, a chart or two, or even something like a tatting shuttle and thread to your offering. It’s a little thing, but it might be a real aid in helping someone stay sane and grounded in the midst of war.