When Shannon Day suggested giving condoms to returning military, some of the other women in her Family Readiness Group laughed. The gaggle of mothers, sisters, wives and girlfriends of soldiers had planned on the ordinary "Welcome home" package of soda, chips and candy, accoutrements the young troops had likely missed in the Middle East.
But Day thought of a young single soldier she had known for years. Coming home from a tour of duty, he would want to do two things: "drink and have fun." So, with the help of a local Planned Parenthood office, she put together a package of three condoms, wrapped in a red bow, with a men's health pamphlet and a coupon for $10 off the organization's services.
Day and her military support group will plant the kits, plus a mint on each pillow, in the bedrooms of a few dozen returning soldiers over the next several weeks.
"Nobody had thought of it before," says Day, whose husband returned from Iraq last week. "It's realistic."
She is not alone in her concern over the sexual health of the largely young, male troops. In 2004, there were 744.7 chlamydia cases per 100,000 men ages 20 to 24 in the country; gonorrhea rates for the same age group numbered 430.6 per 100,000. Fort Carson could not provide STD statistics by deadline.
Past statistics suggest that Fort Carson soldiers make up a significant chunk of reported STD cases in El Paso County. In 2005, there were 2,784 instances of gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis reported countywide, and nearly a quarter of the cases were first seen at one of the area's military facilities.
The numbers which don't say much about whether local military personnel actually carry more STDs than civilians suggest that soldiers are actively seeking out treatment for sexual health issues. Health Department official Dr. Bernadette Albanese says that her office has no plans to prepare for a possible increase in STDs.
"With a population that is migrant, in a way they get deployed, they come back it is in flux, which is a challenge in managing and doing disease projections," she says.
With Fort Carson soldiers returning from Iraq, Planned Parenthood clinics all over the county have seen rising numbers of soldiers who might come in for various services, from accessing birth control to pregnancy tests to STD treatment.
According to Planned Parenthood spokesperson Katie Groke Ellis, this happens "because there is a need, and ... because they can get in to see us a lot faster than they can get in to a primary care physician."
She says that the organization is looking forward to providing educational materials to the new soldiers.
"If there is an influx in the community, there will be an influx in the services we offer."
Day, for her part, will continue with her distributions which have earned her kudos from troops on base.
"The soldiers thought it was hilarious," she says. "They helped us hand out more brochures."
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