Sunday, January 8, 2012

It is time to take the stuff you got this holiday for presents that you still haven’t tried out or opened and re-gift it. Yes put the stuff in a box and send it off to a soldier serving our country somewhere. Most of them are kids under the age of 21 anyway; they still love to open presents. Who doesn’t love that? On December 27th I wrote a blog on how cool it is to be grateful. Gratitude is in the form of giving.
For the military personnel far from home for the holidays few sounds are more welcome than the words “Mail Call.” There is one dedicated Mom at home that is determined to not let the soldiers not have a present for the holidays. For a few days every year, hundreds of volunteers crowd a National Guard Armory in Van Nye’s, California making boxes bound for war.
They are packed with bits of home like new toothbrushes, DVD’s , Girl Scout cookies knit scarves or anything else different from home. She calls it Operation Gratitude, Carolyn Blashek founded it 8 years ago. We pulled our forces out of Iraq and there are fewer troops in Afghanistan, do we need care packages for the troops?
Carolyn says, yes. There are still hundreds of thousands of troops who are away from home, away from their loved ones, especially now around holiday times and they deserve to be remembered. You would expect this kind of enthusiasm from a veteran or army wife but Carolyn is neither.
She is a civilian who earned a law degree from Columbia University before becoming a full time Mom living in the security of a upscale Los Angles suburb. What changed this housewife? September 11th and the start of the war in Afghanistan. She at age 46, tried to join the Marines of which she was politely denied.
She wound up being a volunteer at the airport Military Lounge. A distraught soldier walked in and told her, he was on emergency leave to bury his mother, his wife left him and his only child died as an infant. Ok most stories are not this tragic but…he had no one left in his life. He said that he was going back on tour and didn’t expect to live. It didn’t matter if he died because there wasn’t anyone left to care about him.
So, the next day she decided to do something to help soldiers realize that someone cares. She started making care packages to troops overseas. She paid for everything and began making care packages filling her home with cartons waiting to be filled. Now she has corporate partners who donate goods by the truck load and a battalion of volunteers to help out.
Her operation is big but not impersonal. Each box goes out to a soldier with a hand written note from a volunteer thanking them or just telling them a personal story of their own. The joy of getting a piece of home through a package, photo or letter has been keeping soldiers going for centuries along with centuries of wars.
During the Civil War “Mail Call” was erratic. One soldier wrote that the letters were the only good thing in a week filled with death and destruction. During World War II, a portion of the mail was photocopies and shipped on microfilm to save cargo space on ships. The system called V-Mail worked except for what was known as the scarlet scourge. When a lipstick kiss was on a page, it would blackout a portion of the letter.
There is a Military Mail display at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum that includes a Vietnam era mail bag. They were waterproofed camouflaged bags that were dropped from helicopters that would drop into the jungle foliage and get lost. So, it got the mail out there but the mail could not be found.
Now a postal box about the size of a case of booze can go to anyone in the world in days by plane. Operation Gratitude ships more than 100,000 boxes a year. There are dozens of other outfits that are doing a similar mission to support the troops. Organizations like Cause Helping America’s Military Wounded, Give 2the Troops .org, American War Mother, The hugs Project to name a few. Now there can be you too. Put that extra holiday junk you got in a box and send it to a kid somewhere wearing an American Uniform. Make a brave soldier feel like a kid again they deserve it.

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