Spreading Christmas Cheer To Our Warriors
As I write, there are about 112,000 US troops deployed in Afghanistan and another 46,000 in Iraq. Countless more Americans serve in lesser known but no less critical—and often, no less dangerous—places from Mongolia to Djibouti, the Philippines to the Balkans, and Colombia to the freezing waters under the Arctic ice cap.
To a grunt squattin’ on a rock in the Hindu Kush, a homesick soldier in a “barracks box” in Iraq, an airman crouched under an F-15 Eagle’s wing, a sun-scorched sailor on the deck of the Vinson in the Arabian Sea, a mysterious parcel arriving anytime during the Christmas season is an occasion of wonder, great pleasure, and a kind of gratitude few civilians can know.
Far more than a “gift,” in a way that’s almost inexplicable it is an affirmation that “I exist. I exist even back in the States. I am not forgotten. I am on someone’s mind, and in their heart.” That message alone can be more sustaining than anything packed in a box.
Many of you have written to ask, besides the goodies I list in the military Christmas Gift Guides in GUNS and American Handgunner, what kinda stuff do I send to my own pals out in the Far Lonely? Easy!
Just ask yourself, “What can’t they get in East Zephyristan?” then let your imagination run amok. While doing your grocery shopping, grab containers of Mrs. Dash Garlic & Onion Seasoning, garlic salt, dried onion flakes, lemon pepper, little plastic (not glass) bottles of hot sauce and Worcestershire, cans of nuts and a huge favorite, canned French-fried onions! McCormick makes a small, disposable, black peppercorn grinder, and if you don’t think that’s light-years better than pre-ground black pepper, you ain’t been without it long enough—troops can smell it at 10 meters. Get the Sea Salt Grinder too.
Sealed, tough plastic bags of jerky always get rave reviews, and Philippine brand dried mango strips are sweet, healthy, and travel well. With a 30-ounce bag, send a half-dozen sandwich-size bags so they can take some out on patrol with ’em. Cans of Pringles potato chips seem to survive shipping better than bags, so I watch for sales on those. There’s lots more, but we have to move on.
The Ways & Means
If you don’t know exactly who to send goodies to, AnySoldier.Com is a not-for-profit outfit dedicated to putting you in touch with military personnel deployed overseas in DoD-designated “in harm’s way” areas. You can select the service if you wish; they link to AnyMarine, AnyAirman, AnySailor and AnyCoastGuard too. Giving and sending isn’t complex, but there are some bureaucratic barriers to leap, like local restrictions for certain bases. The folks at AnySoldier have all the info on what to send, what not, and how.
On the website you’ll find lists of individual service personnel of both sexes and all ranks and levels of experience, telling you in their own words the conditions they’re living in, the makeup and size of their group, and their specific needs and wishes. Conditions and needs can vary wildly and what’s carried by a PX—if there is a PX available—can be drastically different. Those listed take care of receiving and distributing all goodies, with preference given to those who receive little or no mail from the States. Many are veteran NCOs and officers who may never take anything for themselves; they’re just hoping to make life a little better for their troops. And please remember, if you can’t afford to send a package, you can send a letter or card, and each can light up a life.
AnySoldier also links to a great service called TreatAnySoldier.com. They make up complete gift packages like “Cookies Galore,” male and female entertainment and hygiene packs—let’s not forget there are lots of women serving out there, folks—protein packs to keep up their strength and health, and a great bundle of assorted snacks called “Goodie Time!” You just pay for the contents; they package and ship for you; all you have to do is select who they’ll go to. You can send their packages to any “receiver” listed on the AnySoldier websites, or someone else named by you.
Across The Spectrum
I can’t give a lot, and I can’t give to all. I suspect most of you are in the same boat. So here’s a “broad spectrum” suggestion that works for me: Through AnySoldier, I can send goodies, snacks, personal hygiene and comfort articles. Through the USO’s “Operation Phone Home” program I can send a 100-minute pre-paid phone card, with a message from me to the recipient. Through donations to the Wounded Warrior Project, I can help the gravely wounded, and through Fisher House, I can help provide free housing at the major military hospitals for their families who could not otherwise afford to visit their loved ones when they most need it. Through “Operation Home Front,” I can help support our deployed troops’ families in a thousand ways as they deal with the hardships and challenges of long deployments.
As a former Marine and ex-cop, I also support the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation. Founded to provide scholarships to the children of Marines and law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty, the MCLEF has now contributed over $50 million to the sons and daughters of fallen members of the other services too, as well as paying for medical costs of kids requiring special medical equipment or tutoring, to give them the best chance possible for better lives.
There are dozens of worthwhile charities, but the need always outstrips the resources. We can make a dent in that, can’t we?
For some people, Christmas is all about giving. For others, it’s all about getting. When you give to our troops and their families, every time you reflect on it, you get more back than you could ever give. Connor OUT