By Ms. Elizabeth Pritchartt (ARNEWS)June 23, 2009
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 23, 2009) --Three hundred and fifty is a large number, and for retired Marine Don Downer, it's a large part of what he does every day.
Downer, acting on a tip from retired Army staff sergeant and neighbor Edward Connor, has now mailed more than 350 care packages to troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Downer mailed his first package July 24 last year and he mailed package number 356 Monday.
"My wife passed away June 18, 2008, and I moped around, looked around for something to do. Now I have a mandate that says I have to take care of the troops," Downer said.
Connor, who has been mailing care packages for 18 years, had the perfect solution for Downer.
"I am always asking people to send packages to the troops, so him being a veteran, I thought he may be favorably disposed to the idea -- I thought it was something he might like. I had no idea how much he would enjoy it," Connor said.
So, Connor searched the Army Knowledge Online Web site looking for a unit; he prefers units that have had heavy casualties or are deployed in substandard living conditions.
He then contacts the commander, typically by e-mail, and receives the lists of items the troops need. He then shares the addresses with Downer. After that, the boxes are filled with magazines, candy, soaps, DVDs and other items to supplement the Soldiers needs.
In addition to all of those items, Downer has a staple to his care packages: spam and chocolate chip cookies. Downer's mother would mail him care packages in China containing the previous items. Spam quickly turned Downer's appetite the wrong way.
"Now it is my turn; suffer!" is one on the slogans Downer writes on the spam cans he sends to the troops.
"I just write it as a joke, in every package I send there is an aura of pride, respect and admiration," Downer said. "There's not one that doesn't have that for each Soldier and Marine."
Currently Downer is mailing 62 Soldiers, and has formed close relationships with several of them through e-mail. He sends them personalized packages with chewing tobacco, waffle mix and Dove soap. Downer has never met any of the troops he bestows gifts to.
"I have not met any of them upon return. It's hard to get there because they fly in to different locations around the country. But, I feel good that they are home safe and it's kind of rewarding," Downer said.
The euphoric high obtained by sending the packages is shared not only by Downer, but by Connor also.
"There is no draft going on right now; they are in the military voluntarily. They are better than any football team or super star; with people like that you can never do enough," Connor said. "I had one Soldier that wrote me back and he said you could put a crumbled piece of paper in the box and we would appreciate that."
Neither man plans on ending the sending of their care packages any time soon.
"I will continue sending packages as long as I have money," Downer said
Connor added, "I plan on doing it as long as I can. The guys are out there fighting for us, and I want to do this as long as I can."