Staff Sgt. Paul F. Brooks (Photo: Military Times)
JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) - The family of a fallen soldier is working to keep his memory alive.
Nikki Winn, Barbara and Christy Brooks, and many volunteers spent a recent Saturday at the second annual Staff Sgt. Paul F. Brooks Fallen Soldier Memorial Blood Drive at The Rock of Northeast Arkansas in Jonesboro. The goal was 65 units of red blood cells; the final tally was 76.
Winn, a former Red Cross staff member, and her family wanted a way for people to give to a good cause, even if they didn't have any money to donate. They came up with the blood drive, reasoning that almost anyone can give blood or volunteer time to help.
They also thought a blood drive would memorialize Paul Brooks and his sacrifice as a combat medic. He was killed in action in Iraq in May 2009.
"He would be the first in line to (give blood)," said Barbara Brooks, Paul's mother.
"It's the gift that keeps giving," Christy Brooks added.
The community has responded very well to both blood drives, Barbara said. Last year's goal was 45 units, and the actual total was 61.
The Jonesboro Sun reported (http://is.gd/mKAm2x ) that some donors and volunteers drove from Searcy to be at the event. Nikki added that employees from the Sonic Drive-In just down the road from The Rock called to schedule appointments so they could give blood when their shift ended.
Donors were given cookies, sodas and event T-shirts after donating. They could also enter to win door prizes ranging from stainless-steel cooking instruments to a 32-inch flat-screen television. The family's goal is for the event to be the biggest annual blood drive in the area, and one that is thought of highly.
In the first year, even the Red Cross workers donated blood, and Paul's fellow soldiers came from North Carolina to donate blood in his memory. Barbara said that one of the hardest parts of dealing with her son's death was thinking that he died alone without his family - but the presence of the soldiers at the first blood drive reminded her that he wasn't alone.
"They're his Army family, and they loved him," Barbara said.
She wants to continuing working at the blood drive until Paul's 5-year-old son - one of four children he left behind - is old enough to donate.
The drive is not only meant to honor fallen heroes and their families, but also the veterans who are home. Brooks' family hopes the event will also raise awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder, with which many veterans struggle. Winn and her family encouraged everyone to offer a nice gesture to veterans and active soldiers when they can.
"Someone needs to do that before something like (a death) happens," Barbara said.
The family said they are still adjusting to living with the pain of missing Paul - what they call "a new kind of normal." His relatives said they wanted to have an event where they could do good things while talking about his life.
A projector scrolled through a slide show of photos of Paul and many other fallen soldiers, and donors could watch it while they gave blood. But the room was also filled with conversation and playful banter between Red Cross members and donors.
"It's not a pity party," Christy said. "I'm proud of him. I miss him and always will, but I'm super proud of him and his sacrifice."
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)