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Soldiers: Thanks for taste of home

posted on Dec 16 2004 0 Comments

Los Angeles Daily News
Soldiers: Thanks for taste of home
By Dennis McCarthy

Wednesday, December 15, 2004 – With our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan facing danger and loneliness, it’s great to be able to pass along an e-mail from a young soldier with a different sort of problem: He’s not sure who to thank.

Army Capt. Craig Van Kirk’s company has been getting scores of packages containing letters and goodies. But the troops don’t know who sent them.

“We don’t want them to think that we haven’t received the packages or don’t appreciate them. We do, more than you know. If I were back home and spent all the time and effort to send this stuff to our troops, I’d want to know that they got it,” said Craig, who has been serving in Iraq since September.

So, Craig wants everyone to know that the men and women in his company appreciate those letters and packages they’re getting from people they don’t know.

“They are huge for morale,” he added. “The only thing I can compare it to would be a police officer in a very bad part of town working 12- to 15-hour days, then coming home to goodies from people he never met, thanking him for what he does.”

Beautifully put, Craig. It is important — vital, really — that people back home hear from the troops overseas. It makes us all feel like we’re doing something to help — even something as small as sending them goodies from home.

“Usually the troops are so busy they can’t write individually, so the leader of a squad will write to tell us thanks on behalf of everyone,” says Carolyn Blashek, who began Operation Gratitude in the living room of her Encino home a few years ago.

What started as sending packages to troops who were receiving no mail from home has caught fire. More than 900 volunteers gathered for four days last month at the California Army National Guard Armory in Van Nuys where they prepared 19,000 holiday packages to send overseas.

Overall, 40,900 packages have been sent to troops.

All of them have a note from a child or adult inside. But many forget to include a return address so the soldier can send a personal thank you, so they e-mail Carolyn.

“I am a U.S. Army helicopter pilot stationed in Iraq,” writes one soldier. “Please tell your friends that their gifts and kind words are as essential to our mission as the bullets and equipment we use.

“Now I need to ask you for a favor. I have before me a beautiful little card written by a child from California. It was included in the package with your card. With her little hands she drew a picture of an American flag and wrote a note thanking me for my service.

“Would you please get a nice Christmas card and mail it to Irena for me? This child’s card and note has touched my heart, and I would love to let her know in time for Christmas.

“Please tell her how happy she made me, and that I will always keep this card by my side.”

It’s e-mails like this that break her heart, Carolyn says, because she has no way of reaching the little girl.

Cpl. L.K. e-mailed Carolyn to tell her that he and all the soldiers in his squad were “dumbfounded” by the packages they received.

“It is amazing that complete strangers would take the time and effort to send us these wonderful boxes. The letters that were enclosed in my box almost brought me to tears.”

Or this from a combat medic with a ground operations unit in Afghanistan.

“It is Thanksgiving, and I just finished eating at the chow hall. Most of us were pulled from the field for a few days. We laughed and joked, and so far we have had no rocket attacks today. Yet.

“We all shared thanks about being safe, and hoping our families are, too. We wished each other a warm night and a safe tour. When I returned to my unit, I had a package from Operation Gratitude sitting on my bunk.

“I opened it and the letters and goodies you sent blew me away. I cannot thank you enough for that. There are times when I do wonder if anyone knows we are out here. After receiving those letters, it made me feel so much pride to know that there are people back home who still think about us.

“You have made my Thanksgiving night. I will never forget this.”

Dennis McCarthy’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday.

Dennis McCarthy, (818) 713-3749 [email protected] TO HELP

To help make the holidays brighter for thousands of troops overseas, send a check to Operation Gratitude, 16444 Refugio Road, Encino, CA 91436.To read more e-mails from troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, visit our Web site for a link to the mail call section of www.opgratitude.com.

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