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Students, community groups send love, treats and prayers to troops

November 9, 2009 

Soldiers in mechanic Good Adam’s squad could use laundry soap and boxer briefs.

They’d love protein bars, Heath bars and vitamins, he writes on www.anysoldier.com, a site of wish lists from deployed soldiers. Maybe some nonfiction books or Xbox and PC games to play when they’re not repairing Strykers and other vehicles from Fort Lewis’s 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

They’re roughing it in tents in Afghanistan, he wrote in an Oct. 20 post, and there’s nary a store in sight.

“I have noticed my soldiers never receive any parcel,” Adam wrote. “Well beside bills. LOL.”

Enter the folks on the home front.

An army of volunteers from youngsters to businessmen to senior citizens throughout the South Sound is mobilizing to send goodies and good wishes to deployed soldiers.

Puyallup community members and businesses recently collected two vans worth of snacks, books and other items and $7,100 to mail the care packages in just over two weeks. The gifts are headed for the 5th Stryker Brigade in Afghanistan, the brigade that’s lost at least 26 members in southern Afghanistan – including eight on Oct. 27 – since arriving there in July.

“People just gave from their hearts,” said Puyallup City Council member Kathy Turner, who spearheaded Puyallup’s contribution to the Operation Make a Soldier Smile effort based in DuPont and Steilacoom. “It doesn’t matter how you feel about the war. It matters how you support our soldiers.”

Kids at Greenwood, Dower and Southgate elementary schools in Lakewood are partnering with community groups to send letters and care packages to troops in the Middle East.

For those and other children in the communities surrounding Fort Lewis, the projects hold special significance. They might be sending packages to moms or dads, to neighbors and family friends.

At Nisqually Middle School in Lacey, more than a quarter of the school’s 580 students have parents who retired from the military or are on active duty, including 50 who are deployed, according to teacher Shannon Saucier.

Emily McGlothern was thinking of her favorite uncle deployed to Afghanistan when she contributed a grocery bag full of Oreos, trail mix, fruit cups, candy and shoe insoles for the school’s support project. Camarin Harris, the daughter of a Navy retiree, enclosed a prayer with the items she brought and wrote a letter saying she knew how it felt to have a loved one stationed far from home.

Classmate Quinton Woods brought Crystal Light drink flavoring and a dollar to help pay for shipping the boxes. He earned the dollar doing chores at home.

“I think the Army needs as much stuff as they can get,” said the 12-year-old, who plans to join the military when he grows up, just like his dad Steven Woods, a full-time chief warrant officer in the Army Reserve. “They’re working their butts off to keep this country safe. We should give them as much as they’re giving to us.”

The public’s efforts are a huge morale booster, say soldiers and group organizers.

“It’s not so much the box you send, it’s the letter in the box that truly matters,” said Army retiree Marty Horn, whose www. anysoldier.com has assisted nearly 94,000 deployed soldiers the past six years. “By far, the most popular thing is a letter.”

Horn, of Indiana, said it’s best to know specific items individual soldiers want because their locations and needs vary dramatically.

Troops in Iraq, for instance, are more likely to have access to a post exchange store for military personnel, while those in Afghanistan’s remote deserts may need basics like deodorant and tampons.

Washington National Guard Capt. Frank Selden returned in September from the U.S. military base in Ramadi, Iraq. He recalled the base receiving holiday care packages last year stuffed with Christmas stockings, cards, ornaments, chocolate, DVDs, ramen noodles, smoked salmon, and his all-time favorite, Aplets & Cotlets from Washington.

They didn’t really need some of the gifts – white socks, underwear, telephone calling cards. The base’s AT&T call center had shut down because people were using Skype for free at base computer labs to communicate with loved ones.

“We had a full PX on our base, and we could get to Iraqi shops. We had access to almost anything we wanted,” said Selden, 47, a member of the Guard’s 81st Brigade Combat Team at Camp Murray. “We forwarded a lot of the support to soldiers who wouldn’t get mail as often.”

He advised contacting a group such as Operation Support Our Troops that is in direct contact with overseas units and knows what they need.

But he stressed his gratitude to the volunteers on the home front.

“It really helped to bring a feeling of Christmas right where I was at,” Selden said. “I was appreciative of everything they did, and feeling grateful there are people back home wanting to reach out and to remind us they’re thinking about us, and praying for us. I thought it was awesome.”

Debby Abe: 253-597-8694

debby.abe@thenewstribune.com

Groups sending packages

WASHINGTON STATE EMPLOYMENT SECURITY

Employment Security employee Joy Stewart is leading co-workers in a volunteer effort to give out U.S. Postal Service flat-rate boxes with preprinted labels bearing the name of deployed soldiers who will distribute items to members in their unit. Boxes come with a list of suggested donation items, and it’s up to the person taking the box to fill it, pay the $11.95 postage and send it by the second week of December.

Packages will go to 1,800 soldiers deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. “So far we’ve adopted out 619 boxes, and have 1,200 boxes to go,” said Stewart, who lives in Lacey.

To get a box or soldier’s address, contact Stewart at 360-402-6007 or Mommamia29@hotmail.com. Department volunteers plan to distribute boxes at most Walmarts throughout the state the day after Thanksgiving.

LAKEWOOD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

More than 40 businesses and organizations in Lakewood have adopted 30 companies in the 4,000-member 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team based at Fort Lewis and deployed to Baghdad, Iraq. The type of support varies with each group, but some are packing holiday care packages and letters. The ongoing support lasts beyond the holiday season.

To get involved, call Linda Smith, chamber CEO and president, at 253-582-9400 or go to www.lakewood-wa.com and click on the “chamber newsletter” link.

OPERATION SUPPORT OUR TROOPS

This group, co-founded by USA Freedom Corps Presidential Volunteer Award honoree Nadine Gulit, works year-round to send Easter, Fourth of July and Christmas care packages and provide other support to deployed troops. Hundreds of volunteers from throughout the South Sound will assemble the Christmas packages this Saturday and Nov. 21 at 10 a.m. at The Anderson Barn, 20245 S.E. 192nd St., Renton. Volunteers can just show up and bring a dish to share for the potluck.

The group has most of the care package items but will accept puzzle and game books, handheld electronic games, board games and DVDs, and money for postage.

Packages are destined for the 8,500 members in the 3rd Stryker Brigade in Iraq and the 5th Stryker Brigade in Afghanistan, both from Fort Lewis.

For information, go to www.operation-support-our-troops.org or contact Gulit at ngulit@comcast.net or call 425-369-2215.

WWW.ANYSOLDIER.COM

This year-round Web site links deployed soldiers in combat zones directly with donors. Soldiers post their unit’s request and mailing address on the site. Volunteers can search for soldiers based on their state, gender and branch of service. The awarding-winning site, founded by Army veteran and Army dad Marty Horn of Indiana, includes plenty of mailing tips and interesting insights from soldiers in their own words.

OPERATION MAKE A SOLDIER SMILE

Community members in Steilacoom, DuPont and other areas surrounding Fort Lewis are collecting items to send to deployed soldiers in Afghanistan. The final collection date will be this Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon, at 1100 Station Drive, Suite 181, DuPont. For a list of suggested donations, go to www.operationmakeasoldiersmile.com or e-mail soldiersmile@gmail.com.

VETSMEETVETS

VetsMeetVets, a group of veterans from all military branches, invites fellow vets to pack and ship care packages for deployed troops on Wednesday , 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., in the Pacific city hall gym, 100 Third Ave. S.E., Pacific. Vets can also bring snacks, foot powder, sports magazines and other items to package. For more information, see www.VetsMeetVets.org and click on “events.”

Debby Abe, The News Tribune

Getting ’em there

You must have the full name and address of a soldier. If you don’t know any, get names from a soldier support group or volunteer with a local care package effort.

Don’t send home-baked goods or alcohol.

Don’t send items prohibited in Iraq and Afghanistan: obscene articles or DVDs, horror comics, pornography, sexual items, unauthorized political materials, bulk quantities of religious materials contrary to the Islamic faith, pork or pork byproducts, according to the U.S. Postal Service.

Send food in a box separate from nonfood items such as soaps, deodorant, detergent and other items whose chemicals and scents can leach into factory-sealed food items.

Remember, soldiers appreciate letters and packages any time of the year.

U.S. Postal Service flat-rate boxes are generally the easiest and most cost-effective way to send care package items. Boxes are free; senders pay a flat postage rate regardless of weight. The largest Priority Mail Flat Rate box costs $11.95 to send to an APO (Army & Air Force Post Office) or FPO (Fleet Post Office) address. People sending other boxes pay postage only to New York or San Francisco. For details, go to www.usps.com and search for “military.”

The U.S. Postal Service advises sending packages mailed via parcel post to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan by Nov. 13 to arrive before Christmas. Priority Mail flat-rate boxes should be mailed by Dec. 11, but the earlier the better.

Remember to complete the customs form listing the box contents.

Don’t expect a thank you note. Soldiers often work seven days a week and live in rough conditions. To increase chances of receiving a response, include in your package a pre-addressed envelope, paper and pen, and a note asking if the soldier needs anything else.

Soldier requests for care package items vary. Ask the individual soldier or group you’re volunteering with for suggestions. Popular items include: beef jerky, Beanie Babies to give to Afghan or Iraqi kids, books, encouraging notes, DVDs and handheld games. For more ideas, go to tiny.cc/carepackage or www.loveboxesforourtroops.com or www.bootsonground.com

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