By Spc. Paul HolstonApril 9, 2011
Imagine that you are deployed to a foreign country for 12 months and not receiving a single letter or package from anyone. The stressful work hours and austere environment affect your morale, but feeling like no one back home cares about you can make it even harder to get by each day.
Fortunately, there are people who do care about service members. People who thank each and every one for the sacrifices made when serving away from home in defense of the nation.
Operation Gratitude and The Letters Home Project are two of the many service member support organizations that send letters, packages and goodies. Most importantly, these organizations let deployed service members know that someone cares everyday.
Operation Gratitude is a nonprofit, volunteer-based organization created by Carolyn Blashek, which annually sends numerous care packages and letters of support to U.S. military service members deployed overseas, as well as wounded warriors recovering in transition units.
Blashek said Operation Gratitude's mission is to lift morale, put a smile on a service member's face and express the American peoples' appreciation for the sacrifices of the men and women who defend their freedom.
Since it began in 2003, Operation Gratitude has sent more than 600,000 care packages addressed to individual Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen in hostile regions such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The organization sends a care package to every deployed service member whose name is received.
Blashek is continually contacted by leaders and commanders in theater who see the positive impact of Operation Gratitude care packages on the morale of their troops in combat.
"Receiving a care package just makes you feel like someone cares," said Spc. Marselle Walker, an automated field artillery and tactical data systems specialist with Company A, XVIII Airborne Corps.
Another organization, The Letters Home Project, dedicates its time and effort to providing other items that service members would need during deployment.
As an individual, Sara Coca, founder of The Letters Home Project, provides writing materials for about 10 different military support groups in order to give service members the tools needed to write home. She started the project nearly six years ago in July 2005.
Some Soldiers on Victory Base Complex, like Spc. Nelson Montalvo, the executive administrative assistant to the political advisor of the deputy commanding general for operation, have a history with the organization.
When Montalvo was on his first deployment in Iraq in 2009, he saw boxes filled with a variety of cards from The Letter's Home Project. He wrote a letter to Coca, thanking her for her support.
"People like Sarah Coca take the time out and do these things for us," said Montalvo. "Because of the efforts they put in, we should thank them for that."
Montalvo and Coca ultimately became pen pals.
Coca said she gets a great deal of joy in hearing that what she provides brings some type of comfort to alleviate some stress and trauma felt by the troops and their families. "It's the philosophy of every single little bit counts."
The Letters Home Project was always intended to be a humanitarian effort and a labor of love to show her gratitude for the freedom she has as a U.S. citizen, said Coca.
"I think it's very important for our troops to be able to keep in touch with their families back home," she said. "I have a great deal of compassion for the troops and what their families must go through back home during times of war."
Capt. Peter Francik, chief of tactical data link for the Air Force research lab, said knowing that people are thinking about you back home and sending something can boost a service member's morale greatly while being in theater.
As of March 2011, more than 719,000 correspondence kits have been shipped to service members since her humanitarian effort began.
Operation Gratitude and The Letters Home Project continue to send boxes for service members here in Iraq, letting them know that your efforts are not forgotten as you complete the Operation New Dawn mission.
By all accounts, the efforts of these organizations are not going unnoticed either.
"These are excellent programs because I think it's a morale booster, without their motivation and support we can't do what we do," said Montalvo.
To contact Operation Gratitude for information and to submit a request for care packages, email at firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact The Letter's Home Project for any requests, email email@example.com.