Captain Michael Lee from the U.S. Army was trying to locate a company to produce a small order of T-shirts for the unit’s first-ever reunion. “When someone comes to us and requests a custom T-shirt, we seldom wonder about the story behind the shirt or the weight of the memory it reflects,” says Jamie Barrus, a co-owner of a promotional products firm.
But when Barrus came across Lee’s request for shirts for a military unit that served in Afghanistan, she became intrigued. Barrus asked some questions as to the backstory of the T-shirt, and decided she had to help.
As Captain Lee tells it, he was called back to active duty in 2006, reporting to Fort Bragg, where the Army quickly assembled a team of other recalled Army troops to serve an assignment in Afghanistan. “There was a lot of drama at the time, since many folks did not want to be there,” Lee remembers. “At the first muster formation, they did a roll call of everyone who had orders to report for mobilization, and less than half of the people showed up.”
After training, the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) was assigned to Farrah in West Afghanistan. The PRT’s main mission was to man a one-gun truck to assess nearby villages and schools and act as a liaison between local police. Because there was a severe manpower shortage at the time, Lee says, the Army had to borrow personnel from other branches of the military. “Our base was like a fort in the old Wild West,” Lee says of the small contingent of soldiers. As a result of their work together in such an isolated area, the crew bonded tightly.
Toward the end of deployment, Lee and his fellow troops were transported to an airfield in Afghanistan, where they received a team T-shirt for their efforts. The tees however proved to be a bit disappointing. “Unfortunately, the selection of designs was very limited,” Lee says.
For the unit’s reunion, he says, “we wanted to have an updated shirt that better reflects and improves heraldry.” The new shirts that Barrus’ company produced featured a bold logo that included a steely skull with swords and a rugged bandanna, along with the tagline “secure the victory.”
Finally, Captain Lee and his troops got the shirt that they really wanted for their reunion. “We were so happy to help,” says Barrus. “Sometimes a T-shirt is just a T-shirt. Other times, you realize it helps preserve a memory for the rest of people’s lives. That’s pretty neat.”