By Heather Huber, Fort Campbell CourierMay 8, 2009
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (May 7, 2009) - For the second time since its inception in 2005, Toast to the Troops has returned to Fort Campbell just in time to stuff its 100,000th care package April 29.
"We kind of consider it a homecoming," said Elizabeth Conway, program director of Toast to the Troops. "Our first one was there and now this is our tenth one and we'll hit the 100,000th care package at this event, so we thought it would be appropriate to return to where it all started."
Conway added that it was a giving back opportunity for Americans and a chance to do something good.
"It's a way to say thank you and let them know we're thinking about them because we know they're thinking about us as Americans," Conway said.
But for spouses like Christa Buckingham, it's an opportunity to help her husband in Afghanistan and other Soldiers deployed overseas.
"My honey's over there right now, and this is a way for me to feel like I'm doing something to help him and all of our friends that our over there," Buckingham said.
Buckingham said her company always made sure to send something extra with each care package to their Soldiers. It was then put in a community room to be taken by Soldiers who needed it, but didn't have anyone to send them care packages.
Candi Hazel agreed, and she was amazed that people still cared so much even after so many years.
"The fact that we're still thinking about them, still sending stuff over there, still letting them know that we're here supporting them no matter what, no matter how long they're over there," Hazel said. "I think that's a wonderful part of it."
Part of that credit goes to the United Service Organization, who started the Care Package program in 2002 after it was decided that the postal service would no longer accept packages addressed to "Any Soldier, anywhere," because of the Anthrax scare.
Since its start, the program has sent more than 1.5 million care packages to troops deployed overseas and the program is still strong despite current economic conditions.
"I think it's about American's support for our troops," said Sloan Gibson, USO president. "I think they understand what this is all about and I think they may be making sacrifices and cutting back, but they're not cutting back on that average $35 check to the USO. It is a tangible way for Americans to reach out and say thank you. We appreciate what you're doing, we're grateful for what you're doing, we have not forgotten you."
A message Gibson said he knew was understood because he'd seen Soldiers react to getting the care packages.
"Their faces light up and smiles broaden, and they're digging into the package to see what all's in there," Gibson said.
Veteran Sylvia Purson said she remembered how much it meant for her when she received care packages, so she couldn't pass up the opportunity to give that feeling to another Soldier.
"Not every Soldier over there has someone to send them something," Purson said. "So to get a care package like this means a lot to them - to know that they're doing something for their country and their country cares."
Even country music singer Craig Morgan said he still felt the need to give back to the military.
Having spent 10.5 years on active duty and six years in the reserves, with two tours at Fort Campbell, Morgan said the Army was still a big part of his life.
"Once you're a Soldier you're always a Soldier," Morgan said. "This is kind of a way we can still serve and give the dependant spouses or whoever's here volunteering and helping just a little something for their efforts."
Morgan and his band played a free concert after the stuffing party for the volunteers and the rest of the Fort Campbell community. Morgan made the time to play at each of the 10 Toast to the Troops around the country.
In reference to his band members, Morgan said, despite having never served in the military, they had come to understand the importance of giving back to military families through the multiple USO tours they had been a part of.
"It is tough on [the Soldiers], because they don't have the luxury of home. The spouses have their loved ones they can talk to and confide in, and these guys have each other and that's it.
They don't have the smell of coffee in the morning, the baby, they don't have those things," Morgan said. "But the spouses that are home that have those things are missing the one thing that they have grown used to the most and that is their loved one, their spouse. So they're serving just as much and I think they need to know that we know that and we appreciate their service."