By Jon Micheal ConnorJanuary 7, 2019
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- What do you do with the blue plastic caps from that bottle you're drinking? If you're like most people, nothing.
But now you can. These bottle caps can help improve the lives of children with the money made from donated recycled plastic.
One person at Bagram Airfield (BAF) collecting blue bottle caps is Thomas Luft, a Department of Defense Expeditionary Civilian deployed as a contract analyst for the Area Support Group-Afghanistan (ASG-A). Stateside, he is a contractor administrator for Defense Contract Management Agency Aircraft Propulsion Operations-Kelly in San Antonio, Texas.
"I was visiting an office on the southern end of the installation when I noticed they were collecting bottle caps. I inquired as to what it was all about. All they knew is that it was for kids' programs back home," Luft explained.
Luft said he recently has been blessed with his first grandchild so a program to help children resonated with him which led him to inquire on how he could help.
"So I asked for the POC, obtained guidance, and it all took off from there," he said.
That point of contact was Tracey McGraw Howard, a contract specialist with the Regional Contracting Center-Afghanistan here.
"I learned of the program from a co-worker at the Army Contracting Command-Redstone [Arsenal], Nancy Larch. Nancy is a parishioner of St. Joseph's Catholic Church and has been for many, many years," Howard said.
The church and sponsor of the program is St. Joseph Catholic Church in Huntsville, Alabama.
The church, which began in 1950, is named after Joseph, the man stated in the Gospels who was married to Mary, Jesus' mother. Joseph is revered as Saint Joseph in the Catholic Church and other Christian churches.
"This program was started by Sister Joan, a nun at St. Joseph who has since retired. She was looking for ways in which to help sponsor students at the school," Howard said. "There are several students who need tuition assistance and help paying fees required when participating in sports. Without this program, a lot of the student would not otherwise be able to afford to participate."
Back home in Huntsville, where ACC-Redstone is located, Howard works as a contracting officer.
ACC- Redstone is a subordinate command of the U.S. Army Contracting Command. Its mission supports Soldiers worldwide by contracting for major weapon system production and services vital to Soldiers' mission and well-being.
Howard explained that containers were placed in a breakroom on the floor where she works stateside. She inquired about the containers and was told the story behind them. Upon hearing that, she began to help.
Larch told her told that it was to help the children at the church attending Holy Family School. Howard said she learned that the school children sometimes did not have food for the weekend, clothes, nor shoes.
Holy Family School -- Huntsville serves students in the local county and is supported by several Catholic parishes.
"The church steps in to fill this void. Upon hearing this, I made it my purpose to collect as many bottle caps as possible.
I enlisted my family and friends to collect caps. The funds received also help to stock the pantry at St. Joseph," Howard said.
Howard said she has been collecting the bottle caps for two years. Upon her arrival at BAF in June she has mailed four large boxes to the church.
"I remember upon arriving and seeing all of the bottles of water, thinking, 'how can I capitalize on this?' With the help of co-workers at the Regional Contracting Center-Afghanistan and the friends I have made here in theater, I have been able to somewhat accomplish this mission. I just wish I could find a way to collect more of the bottle caps," she said.
The plastic, once recycled, is also used to make park benches for the public parks in Huntsville," Luft said.
As it turns out, the large plastic container holding the caps mailed to the church is also of benefit to the cause as it can be recycled too. Luft said he informed the church of this or instead, if it wished, use the containers for storage.
At BAF, there is an abundance of the blue caps as water bottles are available almost everywhere for free to all deployed here.
Luft said he has been able to collect the caps based on his own efforts and from the help of others.
"At least 50 percent of the contribution comes from people I work with and many people outside of my organization that I don't even know," Luft said. "For instance, our billeting manager has contractors working all around her. One of their jobs is to clean the transient housing areas. They have started to collect the caps from the water bottles that are left behind and have become one of my biggest contributors."
"The caps I collect are sometimes just encountered on a lunchtime walk down Disney [Avenue] or, more often, sought after specifically as I go to various locations at Bagram Airfield where people seem to simply discard them in nearly every direction," he said.
For Luft, helping the children in need has been a great opportunity.
"There are many children that are essentially victims of their circumstances and only need a few small tokens of love or encouragement to break the cycle of poverty and move forward to provide themselves and their families a better, more productive life," he said. "With some luck, that blessing becomes recognized and is subsequently passed on to others in need."
Likewise, Howard put her sentiment to help this way: "It is a good feeling to be able to help others, especially children. It is very rewarding to help children because they are so innocent, just to see a smile on their face.
"I can say that it was easy asking family members and close personal friends to help with this effort, but I was truly amazed at the support I received here at BAF from people I barely knew," Howard said.
"This has helped to get to know these individuals better and to have conversations on a more personal note, rather than just a hello in passing. I feel honored that people are so willing to help with this effort."