Lieutenant Commander Jenn Almy, Combat Knitter and Family Physician on the NATO Role 3 Multinational Medical Unit, has done all of these and more in her course of training and between caring for patients in Kandahar, in the south of Afghanistan.
This is the story of Jenn Almy and the Kandahar Combat Knitters.
Jenn has been knitting for about 3 1/2 years. She took up knitting as occupational therapy for her wrist, and to create a baby blanket for her sister’s new baby. Jenn grew into a “second family” during knitting classes at Yarning for You in San Marcos, CA. The knitters there made items for deployed soldiers, and gave her a warrior hat when they learned she would be deployed. Before leaving, Jenn lined up 6 months’ worth of knitting projects for her mom to send to her overseas.
During her course of field training prior to deployment at Fort Dix in New Jersey, Jenn’s CO, Captain Michael McCarten, noticed her knitting during down time. As McCarten’s wife, Kathleen, is also an avid knitter, he knew to ask Jenn if she was a Ravelry member. She was – and so he got them in touch with each other. Between them, they began to organize what became the Combat Knitters. Kathleen is also a member of the Knitting in Alexandria group on Ravelry – more on that in a moment.
En route to Kandahar, Jenn’s knitting began to attract more attention. Her colleagues were asking if she’d teach them to knit once they were all settled in. Even though she’d never taught before and considered herself a newbie, she agreed.
Jenn began to dream up a collaborative project to help teach new knitters and represent the military serving in Afghanistan. Her search led her to the idea of an American flag made of blocks – each one representing a state, military service, or star. The state blocks were designed by Rhonda White, the wife of a marine serving in Okinawa.
Jenn says: “Each square used an average size needle and its finished dimension of 8.5inch by 8.5 inch was a reasonable size. I thought this would be an excellent learning block for the future combat knitters. I would teach them to cast on, knit, purl, bind off and how to read a pattern. They would then finish a square and contribute to the overall project. They could complete this fairly quickly (well some faster than others) and then I could get them started on project for themselves (scarf, hat, etc).”
Jenn was still in touch with Kathleen here in Alexandria. Kathleen began to organize the yarn, needles, and patterns necessary to create Jenn’s American Flag afghan. She called on our help here at fibre space™ to contribute yarn to create the project.
Jenn ended up teaching about 20 people to knit in private lessons, setting up individual times between shifts. She says she tried to get men to learn, but “no takers.” She also created a Combat Knitter’s patch, which you can see her wearing below.
Staff members in Jenn’s hospital serve on the front lines of casualty care in Kandahar, the Taliban capital. They treat many types of patients, from American soldiers to Afghans burned in oil stove accidents, pregnant women, and children with devastating war-related injuries. Jenn helps these post-operative patients recover prior to evacuation. We all know that knitting is valuable for stress relief, and for the combat knitters this is even more true. Knitting has helped give the Combat Knitters a hobby during their infrequent down time, and something other than trauma to think and talk about after a day’s work at the hospital.
While Jenn’s deployment is ending, the Combat Knitters are still knitting, passing on what Jenn has taught them and planning new projects.
Jenn says: “The [afghan] is almost finished but it was more the journey of the project that was the most worthwhile aspect. Is the project perfect? No. There are mistakes. Does every block have the same gauge? No. The project though in my eyes is perfect because despite dealing with never ending traumas and patients, the combat knitters wanted to leave something behind. The project ended up larger in size than initially thought of. We have decided instead of one Afghan we are going to divide the Afghan into 4 parts and hopefully have someone mount it on a frame/board and then be able to hang in the NATO Role 3.”
We’d like to give a big thank-you to Jenn and the Combat Knitters for contributing these photos and telling their story. Also a big thank-you to the Knitting in Alexandria group (and others) who have generously supported the Combat Knitters and other service members. Jenn and other members of the Combat Knitters will be returning home and are looking forward to getting to their LYS. We are hoping to see some of them wearing their patches in our hood as well!