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Local families work to brighten the holidays for soldiers in middle east

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Love from home

November 3 members of the Military Family Support group met at Abner Bells Coffee House to pack boxes for their family members stationed overseas. Each family contributed numerous items that soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa.

The postal service deadline for shipping boxes to the troops for holiday delivery is November 15 for packages and December 1 for cards and letters, according to group founders Gary and Jan Worthan, Storm Lake.

As local supporters have shipped off countless care packages to try to make life a little better for the soldiers serving in the Middle East, they've gotten a grip on what's wanted, what's not, and what's just plain impossible.

Since donations and many more packages are needed from the homefront, the group offered a "wish list," based on information straight from many of their children who are serving in the war-torn region.

Winter in Iraq and Afghanistan is very cold, so anything that will help keep troops warm and dry is welcome. A small pillow can be a luxury, a clean sheet or a fleece blanket is helpful. Anything that reminds the soldiers of home is appreciated, they said.

The holidays are coming, and some children are donating small handmade hanging decorations or tiny trees. (Only non-religious items are being allowed.) It's a good idea to send several cards with messages, so that they can be shared by those soldiers who receive little mail from home.

Needed for care packages: lip balm, skin lotion, aloe cream for sun and wind burn - their skin is chapped and broken from the fine blowing soil. Large baby wipes, hand sanitizer and facial cleansing pads, which must replace showers many days. And above all, toilet paper - much kinder than anything they'll see overseas, a very personal touch of home.

Also non-medicated eye drops for after a "brown out" storm, cough drops and vitamin C drops, blister bandages, gel insoles for boots. Socks, black or military boot style, to fight trench foot, hand and foot warmers, pocket size Kleenex.

Disposable cameras are appreciated to send photos home to loved ones, and other needs include AA and AAA batteries, pens and postcards, gallon-size Ziplock bags to protect personal goods from the pervasive dust, small board games such as dominoes or cribbage, videotapes of movies or sports events to remind soldiers of home.

Non-perishable foods and drinks are important. Such as: drink mixes (except Gatorade, the military bought it by the pallet and soldiers are sick of it), hot cocoa, tea mixes. Portable foods such as Pringles chips, Chex mix, cracker packs with peanut butter or cheese, cup soup mixes, foil pack or pop top tuna or chicken, jerky, power bars, Pop Tarts, dried fruit, nuts and sunflower seeds, instant oatmeal, cereals, desert snack packs and even "baby" desert jars, candy and gum that helps to keep the mouth moist on patrol.

"Many time the troops will take these items and pack them in their fatigue pockets instead of rations when they go out on a patrol. Eating nothing but MRE rations gets old fast, so nutritious foods from our boxes is a welcome change," the support group says.

One note - absolutely no pork, even as a minor ingredient, is allowed, due to sensitivities with beliefs in this part of the world.

Anything to make time pass more quickly and to remind the soldiers of life back in the U.S. is good. Suggested items include current CDs, photo holders, journal books, hobby items, Sunday funny papers and sports sections.

Pentagon regulations require security in delivery of care packages to protect troop location information, so the local committee cannot share address lists for the soldiers. However, the public can donate items with final packing and mailing to be overseen by the military families. No homebaked goods can be sent except from immediate family members of a specific soldier, and items should remain in original packaging.

No flammable items, liquor, religious items, fresh fruits, plants, or pornographic or racy items are allowed. Even the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition doesn't meet with the customs of the region.

Ideally, the local group wishes to see mailed packages between 15-34 pounds. Parcel post has proven to be about as timely as priority mail. More information about sending packages to the military is available as www.ups.com.

For more information on how to donate, contact Jan and Gary Worthan of Storm Lake, or any other member of the local military families committee.

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