Four years ago, Patti Patton-Bader started sending her soldier son Brandon two or three care packages a day while he was stationed in Iraq. Pretty soon, she and her husband, Jeff, doubled that number. Brandon then wrote a letter thanking them and asking for more! They were astounded. Four to six packages a day wasn't enough? It turned out that Brandon was distributing the contents of his packages to many other soldiers.
So the Baders enlisted the help of friends, who called their friends, who called even more friends about writing to US troops serving overseas and sending them packages. Soon, this unofficial effort became a nonprofit organization known as Soldiers' Angels (SA), and before long, there were participants from all 50 states and Puerto Rico, even some from overseas.
Imagine being in a faraway land. It's unfamiliar. It's hot. It's dangerous. It's not home. Dust and sand may choke everything. Basic necessities such as shampoo are hard to come by. Homemade cookies are almost unheard of.
That's what it's like for many of the troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of them don't even get mail. Much of the time, they are lonely, bored, and longing for home.
Soldiers' Angels and other groups like it are helping, and – good news – kids can join in, too.
Soldiers' Angels recruits people to send letters, cards, e-mails, and, best of all, care packages from the United States, and explains the best ways to do this.
These packages often contain games, books, toiletries, and snacks. The snacks are sometimes what the servicemen and women like best because they provide a nice change from their usual food, called MRE's or Meals Ready to Eat.
Have you ever tried an MRE? Many of them are not very tasty. They sometimes contain dehydrated meat, entrees such as chicken a la king in a pouch, and dry, unappetizing fruitcakes.
On occasion, those who are serving far from home ask to have a member of Soldiers' Angels assigned to them so they'll have someone from home who regularly gets in touch.
But quite often, it is a friend, their sergeant, a chaplain, or a superior officer who notifies SA that there is a lonely soldier (or many soldiers!) who could use a helper. The website, www.soldiersangels.org, is full of stories of such tenderhearted care for fellow soldiers.
Sisters aid servicewomen
Sisters Emmaleis (9) and Rebekkha (11) of Grand Forks, N.D., "adopted" three female soldiers and cared for them together. They sent frequent letters and boxes of goodies to the servicewomen.
"I really enjoyed getting to know more about the country that my solider was in," Rebekkha says. "My mom, sister, and I did a lot of research about the culture and climate of Afghanistan and got to know the country pretty well."
Emmaleis adds that the best part was putting together the packages for them. "I liked making care kits. I did not know them [the servicewomen], so it was fun just making a theme in the box and putting all kinds of fun things in there."
The girls packed tasty, interesting, and even silly things in their boxes. They once sent dirt to the soldiers so that the women could touch soil from their homeland. They have also included books, beef jerky, canned ravioli, and handheld games. They baked lots of homemade cookies.
One of their soldiers, Megan, loves Hello Kitty, so the girls sent her Hello Kitty paraphernalia. Sara, another of the soldiers assigned to them, had a popcorn maker, so the girls sent her flavored salt. Whatever they thought their soldiers might smile about, Emmaleis and Rebekkha packed and sent to them.
A grateful soldier
Lacy, a soldier stationed in Iraq, has been "adopted" by a volunteer named Connie. "I was excited to receive things from home that you just can't get here," she says by e-mail. "It's wonderful to know so many people care.
"It's nice to know that there are people out there that don't know anything about you and take it upon themselves to introduce themselves to you, and you can make such an amazing relationship," she adds. "When I get home from a hard day and see a letter or package on my bunk, I feel happy that people care."
"Adopting" a serviceman or woman is the most traditional and familiar way that volunteers can help out as part of Soldiers' Angels. But the group has other programs, too.
Taylor and Samantha (both 13) are friends who got involved with SA to help fulfill a requirement for a school class. They wanted to help people from their home state. They found out that there were quite a few wounded North Dakotan servicemen and women in a hospital in Germany. Since it was Christmastime, the girls knew those soldiers would be lonesome for their families. So they decided to send them telephone calling cards so they would be able call home.
"It sounded like it was going to be fun, and we would be able to help a few more people than going to the humane society [and helping with stray animals] or picking up garbage or something like that," says Taylor.
The girls sent letters to businesses asking for donations, called people about their project, and were even featured on a local TV news program. The donations started arriving. "Sometimes it was $5, and sometimes it was $100. It just started coming in," says Taylor. The girls were able to raise $2,500, enough to buy about 235 calling cards!
Taylor and Samantha's donation was very well received, says Shelle Michaels, the national public relations director for Soldiers' Angels.
"The reaction was really heartwarming," says Taylor.
"We got to help so many different soldiers," adds Samantha.
It helps to hear from home
Jeff Bader, whose wife founded the organization, has written a book, "May No Soldier Go Unloved," about how the group came to be. In it, he talks about the many ways SA members have helped thousands of soldiers and their families around the world.
The Baders believe that servicemen and women serving in war zones return home happier and healthier if they've been adopted. "Getting those care packages and letters of support, knowing that the American public is behind you, and all that – it's going to be much more of a positive experience when you get home," he says.
Participating in Soldiers' Angels or another group to support troops in Iraq or Afghanistan doesn't necessarily require much money, says Ms. Patton-Bader. You can enlist friends and neighbors to pitch in to help fill a care package, for instance.
"The soldiers really enjoy getting letters from kids," says Mr. Bader. "That puts a smile on [troops'] faces no matter what."
Ms. Patton-Bader is enthusiastic about kids who are helping members of the military overseas. "There's a very special relationship between a military person and a child," she says. "I don't know if it's the sincerity, the naivety, the true belief in causes. There's a unique bond between them, and I absolutely love it when kids get involved."
Patti Patton-Bader, founder of Soldiers' Angels, a military support group (see story at left), is the great-niece of famous World War II general, George Patton. That connection has helped her gain appearances on regional and national radio and television programs. She uses this on-air time to help raise money and awareness for her cause. All funds raised go to aid the troops and their families. No one at Soldiers' Angels is paid.
Kids can help troops overseas
There are many ways to help! On the Soldiers’ Angels website, kids and adults can learn about different ways to get involved. Be sure to get a parent’s permission before going online. Kids can join one or several of these teams:
• The Letter Writing Team send letters to many different soldiers.
• The Sewing Team makes blankets to give to wounded soldiers.
• The Chaplain Support Team writes letters and sends goody bags for chaplains to distribute to soldiers who might need a little encouragement.
• Angel Bakers is a new team that sends home-baked goods to soldiers once a month.