Somewhere in Afghanistan in a remote, dry, dusty location, American service members hear “Mail Call,” ring out. A spark of light lifts their spirits as thoughts of ammunition counts and the ever present shadow of death lingering nearby are pushed back by thoughts of loved ones and news from home. For the moment, joy is in the atmosphere again.
Keen eyes scanning the handful of envelopes for any signs of familiar hand writing spot a sizable box being drawn from the mail bag. Letters will be savored in a few minutes, but someone vocalizes the question that just formed in everyone’s mind, “what’s in the box?”
The blade of a sharp knife is flicked out and the box top is sliced open with eager haste. Smiles break out as the valuable contents are revealed.
The box is an Any Soldier box sent by Bureau of Land Management employees in Great Falls, Montana.
“It's nice to be able to do a little something for the people who are fighting for our freedoms,” said Lisa-Marrie Whiteman, a Petroleum Engineering Technician for the BLM Great Falls Oil and Gas Field Office.
“I have no idea how many boxes we have sent; way too many to count,” she explained. “Great Falls personnel have made our soldiers part of their regular shopping lists. The most requested items are: baby wipes and other hygiene items. The most surprising things the soldiers ask for are socks and razors; it's amazing what we take for granted.”
Whiteman started the project in 2007 when her son Dylan was in the Army deployed to Iraq.
“Of course, I sent him boxes as often as I could. But through conversations with him, I found out that there were several soldiers that didn’t get anything from home for one reason or another,” she said. “My son also told me about other programs that sent their whole unit stuff, one of them being the Any Soldier program.”
The Any Soldier program website www.anysoldier.com offers patriotic Americans an organized venue to support deployed U.S. troops in a manner that complies with Department of Defense safety requirements. Individuals are not permitted to send packages addressed to “Any Soldier.” Therefore, the Any Soldier program provides contact information for specific unit volunteer representatives. These unit representatives receive packages, inspect them to ensure the contents are safe and free of contraband items, and then distribute the contents to unit members.
“You have to mail the box to a specific person, usually a sergeant or higher ranking individual. It’s a safety issue,” Whiteman explained.
Whiteman communicates with a particular unit to determine the specific need, according to Don Judice, the Oil and Gas Field Manager at the Great Falls Field Office. “At times, we get requests for socks, razors, cookies, magazines and other items,” he stated.
“The office always has a box in some state of ready-to-be-mailed-out,” Judice said. “The entire office participates in filling the boxes, and it’s become a habit of all employees to buy just a little more when we go to the store.”
At the beginning Whiteman asked her coworkers at the BLM Great Falls Office if they would be willing to sponsor her son’s unit.
“They responded with a resounding ‘Yes’ and boxes started going out regularly,” she said. “Holidays were a big thing. Someone usually organized a theme for the boxes and made sure they got mailed in time. The response was overwhelming.”
Eventually, Whiteman’s son completed his combat tour. However, supporting the troops had become a welcomed habit for the BLM Great Falls staff.
“When my son came home from Iraq, I asked around to find out if there was still interest and of course there was. There were, and are, others here that have deployed family members. So we would get the name of a specific sergeant and start sending boxes. When someone came home, we found another troop to send boxes to,” Whiteman stated.
Initially, Whiteman and the BLM Great Falls staff were following protocols listed on the Any Soldier website (www.anysoldier.com), but they were not using the website to find units.
“We were just sponsoring units of family members. I think it was late in 2009 that we signed up on the website and started picking units in need from there,” Whiteman said. “At this point we made an effort to pick units with female soldiers.”
Judice added, “We also have a box just for the women overseas.”
Recently, the BLM Great Falls Field Office had been sending boxes to Staff Sgt. G., who served with Whitman’s son in Iraq and is again deployed. This time Staff Sgt. G. is in a remote location in Afghanistan.
A reply came from Afghanistan. Staff Sgt. G. sent Whiteman a hand written thank-you letter scrawled on a page torn from a unit leader’s logbook.
“Staff Sgt. G.’s letter is not the first letter of thanks we’ve received. We don’t always get a response from our troops but, thanks are not why we do this. They give so much and ask for so little,” said Whiteman. “As his letter states, all their supplies must be air dropped. They do not even have access to a PX.” (Post Exchange: military version of a general store)
“We will continue sending boxes until they come home,” Whiteman declared.
|Bureau of Land Management staff in Great Falls, Montana, support the Any Soldier program. The office always has a box in some state of ready-to-be-mailed-out to deployed U.S. service members.|