New Trinity Health Foundation project helps mom of slain soldier pay it forwar

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

It’s a visit a mother never wants to get.  When soldiers arrived on Teri Johnson’s front step in April 2009, her worst fears were confirmed.  Her son, Corporal Jason Pautsch, wasn’t coming home alive from his tour of duty in Iraq thanks to a suicide bomber.

The weeks that followed were a blur of ceremonies and what seemed like endless streams of dignitaries and well-wishers. After the pomp and circumstance had subsided, the Moline woman was only left with memories and her son’s possessions, which eventually wound up in a handcrafted walnut chest she received from the Army.

That chest – now nicknamed “Jason’s Box” – would ultimately become a symbol of her son’s legacy for other soldiers deployed throughout the world.

“I realized that I could do something with my grief to honor Jason,” Teri recalls.  “I wanted to find a way to help other deployed soldiers who might be missing home know they are being thought of.”

And thus began the “Jason’s Box” project. 

Johnson began sending thank-you notes to other soldiers with space for them to write any special requests they may have.  Those who sent notes back expressed sorrow for her loss.

“Sometimes they asked if there was anything THEY could do for ME instead of the other way around,” she laughs. 

Return envelopes started to arrive with the smallest of requests – beef jerky, hand-sanitizer, books, Q-tips – all things soldiers can’t get when they’re out in remote deserts but still mean the world to someone who has been called to serve.

Since January, Johnson and other volunteers have sent more than 270 packages.  Each weekend is spent shopping for the next wave of boxes, which cost between $50-60 each to fill and ship.

The Trinity Health Foundation has also since come on board with the project, whose new mission is “to improve the health and well-being of our military men and women.”  While the scope of the project covers the care packages at this point, long-range goals could include linking or providing some active-duty and returning veterans suffering from PTSD, other assorted behavioral health disorders and traumatic brain injury with services through Robert Young Center for Community Mental Health.  

“Trinity’s mission is to improve the health of the people and communities we serve, but that doesn’t always mean those people are right next door,” says Trinity Health Foundation President Berlinda Tyler-Jamison.  “Sometimes healing and compassion know no geographic boundaries.”

The notes and photos Johnson has received are extremely heartfelt, proving that what may seem like a small act of caring can have a lasting impact.

“One soldier on his fourth tour of duty wrote, ‘Thank you for your support.  It’s a good feeling knowing that I protect people who appreciate what we do.’”

To make a monetary donation, send checks made payable to the Trinity Health Foundation with “Jason’s Box” on the notes line.  Mail checks to:

Trinity Health Foundation

5510 Utica Ridge Road, Suite 200

Davenport,  IA  52807