Care Packages And Those Who Send Them

There are two kinds of Care Packages that deployed personnel receive:  those sent by friends and family and those sent by caring groups, organizations, and individuals to “any deployed soldier.”  I’ve been the recipient of both.

Mail Call has always been important to deployed soldiers.  It used to be the sole lifeline back to home.  Now, everyone has a cell phone, a laptop with an Internet connection, and access to Skype and other video chat tools that shrink the distance between war zones and “The World” back home.  Still, receiving Care Packages from friends and family is always welcomed.  Back in the day when we didn’t have cell phones and Internet connections, soldiers receiving letters in the field would quickly abandon their loud bravado and retreat into their inner worlds when reading letters from home.  What was moments before a loud “circus-like atmosphere” where soldiers grabbed for their mail while ribbing others who didn’t receive any, quickly became a quiet and introspective period while these young men reconnected to a childhood home and a world that was too far away.

I have received two packages since I’ve been here.  The first one was sent by my former Admin Assistant from one of my Antarctic seasons.  Melissa sent me all kinds of goodies to include a loose tea infuser and homemade chocolate chip cookies.  Her box also contained pictures of Thanksgiving turkeys drawn by her two young daughters.  Thank you again, Melissa, for your kind gift.  The other box was sent to me by my sister-in-law, Tina.  Tina always spends time finding just the right item for the right occasion.  Her box arrived just before Christmas and contained more goodies and items that I’ve savored.  My wife, Suzanne, called Tina just before the box was mailed and told her that I was missing my peanut M&Ms that cannot be obtained over here.  So, two bags of those were thrown into the box before mailing.  I’m still working off the weight gained by consuming all of this great stuff.  Tina also took the time to include a two-page letter.  Thank you, Tina.

A lot of thought goes into these Care Packages.  One of the NCOs I work with at New Kabul Compound got married just before he deployed.  His young bride sent him a box just before Thanksgiving containing everything he needed to have a Thanksgiving dinner without going to the DFAC.  The box contained canned turkey and canned cranberry sauce.  It also contained prepared sweet potatoes and dinner rolls, complete with a desert.

The Care Packages that arrive for “any deployed soldier” are processed at the Theater mail facility in Kuwait and distributed throughout the Area of Operations.  Every camp and FOB (Forward Operating Base) receive these boxes and they generally are available in the MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) or USO tents.  Many of these boxes arrived in time for the holidays.  These boxes contain all kinds of useful items.  Toothbrushes, toothpaste, decks of cards, candy, hot sauce, wet wipes, lotions, shampoos, feminine hygiene products, and Christmas decorations arrive in these boxes.  They’re opened and placed where soldiers can dig through them and find items they need or desire.

All of the boxes I found myself digging through came with Christmas cards enclosed.  My eyes kept darting to the cards while my hands frantically searched for the real goodies that might have escaped the eighteen-year old soldiers who already had dug through the boxes.  No luck there.  I felt guilty about the cards, still in sealed envelopes, that hadn’t been read.  I grabbed a handful of cards from a couple of boxes and sat down to read them.

Some cards were just signed and enclosed.  Some had city and state on them.  The boxes I saw were sent by small towns in North Carolina and other small towns in mid-western states.  I thought back to my “Hero’s Welcome” in Maine when I was deploying.  I immediately envisioned small church groups, high school students, and other caring individuals taking the time to purchase, pack, and mail off these items to us over here.  I felt badly that these cards were generally being ignored by the young troops who looked past them in search of gifts and goodies.  But then I remembered the strings of Christmas cards that adorned the hallways in the offices near  where the Chaplains sit and I knew that they too were taking the time to put these cards to better use.

Of all the cards I grabbed and read, two stood out.  These cards were written by parents of of a dead soldier and a dead marine.  One mother grieved for her lost soldier son (killed in action in Iraq) but encouraged us, through her tears, to continue the mission.  The other card contained a long note from a father who lost his Marine Lieutenant son just eight months before in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Afghanistan.  Eight months ago.  Twenty-two years old.  I glanced up to look at the young people in the USO tent with me, calling home, talking with their loved ones, huddled over the phone or a laptop like the soldiers I knew in the field years ago.  Same posture, just a different communications medium.  All of them had combat patches from a variety of Army combat units.  Any of them could have been there, near the field where this young marine died eight months ago.  Their life goes on while this father continues to grieve for one that won’t return from patrol.

And yet he took the time to pour his heart out, tell us his story, and wish us God Speed and a Merry Christmas.  Too bad I was the only one to read it.  Life is for the living, as the saying goes.  And so we continue to live and fight, vainly trying to distance ourselves from the fate of those who don’t survive. 
Despite the sadness connected with a couple of the Christmas cards, I was encouraged and heartened by the knowledge that there were good Americans who cared about the military personnel deployed in harm’s way and were kind enough to take time to send them gifts from home.  I, for one, am deeply grateful.