By Devin Fisher, Fort Carson Mountaineer staffNovember 13, 2008
FORT CARSON, Colo.-More than 1,300 Christmas care packages arrived at the Mountain Post Nov. 3 following an outpouring of support for the Fort Carson men and women serving approximately 7,000 miles from home.
The Christmas for Our Troops packages were delivered to the Mountain Post's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, that will, in turn, send them to Soldiers spending the holidays in Iraq.
Christmas for Our Troops is a joint venture spearheaded by The Redistribution Center Inc., a nonprofit organization headquartered in Wheat Ridge, Colo., and members of Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch, Colo.
"We pack a lot of love and prayer in each box," said Sharon Gardner, CHCC coordinator.
She noted the congregation collected "goodies" for six weeks and then about 250 volunteers packed the boxes on two Sundays during a patriotic celebration that included the Pledge of Allegiance, singing the military fight songs, the "Star Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America," and a prayer for the troops' safety and recipients of each box.
"We have the greatest fighting force in the world. It's a privilege to pray for them," she said.
Gardner started the CHCC Pray and Support Our Troops group back in 2002 after receiving a phone call from her son, an Air Force F-15 pilot helping enforce the no-fly zone out of Turkey. "Turn on the news, that's my plane on the TV screen," she recalled him saying. "After seeing all the rockets exploding in the background, I knew I needed a support group to pray for my son and the other men and women serving in combat."
Ranya Kelly, executive director of The Redistribution Center Inc., said she wanted to ensure the Soldiers "receive a real gift from America, from people who love them." The mother of an Army helicopter pilot noted everything included in the boxes was donated. "It takes a bunch of people to do this - it's so huge," Kelly said.
Gardner noted the endeavor begins each fall with an e-mail sent to about 450 recipients. "They forwarded it to their friends and it keeps growing. Once we got the word out, everyone wanted to help." She said this year several thousand people were involved, including church members, schools, community organizations, Xcel Energy, Frontier Airlines, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6051 and the Girl Scouts.
"All we want to do is make sure (the Soldiers) know we're thinking about them," said Jerry O'Nan, a CHCC member whose daughter is currently serving at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Gardner and O'Nan agree that the numerous thank you cards from Soldiers receiving the care packages in the past keep them going each year.
"They make it all worthwhile. We cherish every one of them," Gardner said.
"They bring tears to your eyes," O'Nan said.
While Christmas for Our Troops sends a "touch of home" to the deployed troops, the spouses back home are also touched by the show of support, said Connie Kallerson, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Family Readiness Support Assistant.
"It's amazing," she said. "It is good for the spouses to know what (the Soldiers) are doing over there is supported back home."