A neighbor, a very nice woman, approached me the other day and asked if I’d heard about the troops coming home from Afghanistan.
After blinking at her a couple of times, I finally managed to ask her where she heard that.
She said she heard it on the news, that the last of the surge troops have been pulled out, and she wondered why there wasn’t more in the news about our troops coming home.
While it would be easy to say something negative, something about this woman being clueless and not being aware of what was going on in the wider world beyond her kids’ ballet and football, band and cheerleading, it wouldn’t be fair. Her misperception of what is going on in Afghanistan is all too common. So, I explained that the news she is referring to, the news she heard was about the 33,000 additional troops that are now coming home, but that there are still more than 68,000 Americans over there.
This little exchange went to the heart of another conversation I had this week.
Deb Rickert, founder of Operation Support Our Troops – America told me that their shelves may soon be nearly empty. OSOT-America collects donations and sends care packages to our troops overseas. Currently, they are gearing up to send Christmas stockings and holiday care packages, but are in desperate need of items to fill both the stockings and the regular boxes. What’s worse is there are items being requested by our troops, things they are currently unable to send. These requests are for basic, urgently needed things like sheets and warm blankets.
Deb attributes the nearly bare shelves and lack of supplies in part to the same misunderstanding my neighbor had. People hear about troops coming home but not about the majority still there. Other factors, like the perennial lack of awareness on the part of too many that we are still a nation at war and the focus on the upcoming election have contributed to a situation where the demand has outpaced the supply of donations. What makes this all the more distressing and urgent is the fact that most people don’t realize that in order for a care package to reach our troops in time for Christmas – particularly those at forward bases in remote areas – boxes need to be sent in October.
Some of the funniest and most poignant videos I’ve seen of our troops overseas have been of battle hardened, weary and dirty soldiers opening boxes full of silly Christmas toys. In those moments, you can see the boys under the uniforms, laughing over the stickers, yo-yos, temporary tattoos and silly dollar store toys sent by strangers. Those moments of complete joy may be the only time they’ve been able to relax in days, weeks or even months. Understanding that it is courtesy of the people back home, the people they too often think have forgotten about them make those videos, those moments even more precious. The most touching and heartbreakingly sweet of all was a video of a group of soldiers each getting a warm, fuzzy blanket. The fact that those blankets were all emblazoned with cartoon characters, not something one would normally associate with front line soldiers, not only didn’t matter, there were shouts and play fights over who got which one, with Tweety Bird seeming to be the most desirable. More than one soldier turned away from the camera to wipe his eyes.
Operation Support Our Troops-America has sent over one million pounds of these reminders that Americans back home have not forgotten them, twenty-five pounds at a time. That translates to more than forty thousand care packages, each individually boxed by an incredible group of volunteers who want to do more. But, they need supplies to fill those boxes.
Please follow the link below for a list of items that are urgently needed. Even though it’s not on the list, the number one requested item currently really is cold weather linens, specifically twin sized sheets and blankets. That may be more than many can afford right now, so perhaps think about picking up an extra bag of candy when you stock up for the trick-or-treaters. And if you’re able to, hit a dollar store or take advantage of some of the pre-pre-pre-holiday sales and get a gift or two to fill those Christmas stockings and boxes. Remember, there are more than 68,000 American men and women still in Afghanistan, and they need our support.