posted on Nov 24 2003 0 Comments
During the buildup to the war in Iraq, a soldier came into the office looking for a chaplain. But Mrs. Blashek was the only one on duty that day. Through tears, he told her he was on emergency leave from Korea for his mother’s funeral. His wife had left him several years ago, and his only child had died as an infant.
“He said, ‘I’m going back over there; I don’t know if I’ll ever return, and I don’t think anyone would ever care.’ And it just tore me apart,” Blashek says in a phone interview. “That moment made me realize that troops going into harm’s way need to believe that someone at home loves them, and someone needs them to come home – so that they have the strength and the courage to face what they’re facing.”
In past wars, people could address letters and care packages generically “to any soldier,” she says. But because of post-Sept. 11 security, they now need specific names. She decided to be the middle person – collecting names of troops abroad and gathering donations and letters from people like her – Americans who want to show their gratitude but don’t have family or friends of their own in the military.
Operation Gratitude was born. From her home in Encino, Calif., she sent out about 650 packages in the first six months – sometimes including personal requests. Blashek recalls digging through donations to find Old Spice products for one soldier.
Earlier this month, she paired up with the local National Guard and volunteers to send 4,000 holiday packages – snacks, disposable cameras, phone cards, DVDs, and blank greeting cards so the soldiers could write home. Most important, she included in each box two pages of encouraging messages from people who had contacted her through Operation Gratitude’s website (www.opgratitude.com).
Even though she rises by 6 a.m. and typically works on the project till 10:00 at night, Blashek doesn’t take personal credit. “These men and women have taken an oath to lay down their life for me. They don’t know me … [but] they have made huge sacrifices so that I and my kids can continue to live our lives. There’s no way I can show enough appreciation for that.”
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