On the 10th of every month, Mills senior Chrissy Angiola mails a box crammed full of books, beef jerky and vitamin C to the two marines she adopted in November through the Support a Soldier organization.
Support a Soldier is one of the many organizations that help people “adopt” a soldier, and Angiola is one of many Americans who has signed up to send packages and letters to U.S. troops overseas. Other organizations include Any Soldier, where volunteers can choose their recipient.
“These men and women are over there for us, and it’s the least we can do to say thank you,” she said.
Angiola first heard about it through coworker Alaina Tracino and simply Googled “support our soldiers” to find a Web site. Within seven days of signing up online, she received her soldier’s APO (Air/Army Post Office) box in the mail. She sent her first packages to her soldiers, a sergeant and a private, last November.
“They got huge care packages the first time I sent anything,” Angiola said. “I was scared I wasn’t going to hear back from them.”
Angiola didn’t have anything to worry about. Both soldiers wrote letters back.
“I didn’t expect it as quickly as I got it. It came back within three weeks,” she said. “They’re really not picky, and they’re both super appreciative of everything.”
While her first letter wasn’t a page long, she now sends long letters, especially to the private. The private recently received e-mail access while the sergeant does not have access to a computer. Her letters always have a P.S. of “Be safe!”
One of the nerve-wracking questions is what to write in that first letter.
“Simply hello, just write like you are writing to a friend because that’s what that soldier is going to be as soon as they open that letter,” said Marty Horn, president of Any Soldier Inc. “And if you really want to make their day, say thank you.”
For people who do not want to “adopt” a soldier and write to them, there are many organizations where people can donate money to have a care package sent, such as Treats for Troops. Having Treats for Troops send a package also means participants do not have to familiarize themselves with post office and military regulations.
“We provide a convenient service to family and friends who want to send packages to troops but don’t have time in their busy lives to do so regularly,” said Deborah Crane, president and founder of Treats for Troops, Inc. “Everything in our gift shop is safe to send to any of the countries our soldiers are stationed in.”
For those who think sending a package a month is beyond their budget, letters only require a normal 39 cent stamp to mail.
“Its not about stuff, it’s about support,” Horn said. “The letter in the box is more important then the box itself.”
Angiola usually uses the post office’s medium or large flat rate boxes to mail packages because she can send as much as she can stuff into the box.
Her soldiers wrote that they especially liked beef jerky, packets to flavor water, and books. In order to collect books, she has reached out to the Mills community and both places she works. While there is no overall theme to the books, there are a lot of mystery books and most of them are easy reads.
“Books are something that they can keep that’s in English and from home,” said Vavette Blevins, who founded Support a Soldier. “It’s a reminder that they are not going to be there forever.”
In her monthly package, Angiola always includes vitamin C, Icy Hot and some kind of sugar because, she says, “sugar always helps.”
“I would encourage anyone to do it. It’s so easy, and it helps a lot,” she said.
Many of the organizations were started by mothers and wives of soldiers, but Horn and his wife, both military veterans, started Any Soldier when their son was serving in Iraq in 2003.
“I spent 22 years in the Army, so I’m not an expert, but I have a lot of experience,” Horn said.
On the Any Soldier Web site, people can choose to send packages to almost 4,000 contacts. These soldiers sign up to represent a group of soldiers, such as a unit or a platoon, and pass out what they receive in packages to others. Packages are sent to the soldier personally, with the line ATTN: Any Soldier. (The military no longer allows sending a package without a specific soldier’s name on it due to security concerns.)
“It’s not a 30 second Web site, it’s not a business, it’s a way for people to actually do something,” Horn said. “There’s no middle man. You read who you want to support, and you send it directly to them.”
Through Support a Soldier, volunteers are given a soldier’s address and they send packages to them with no extra ATTN line, although the items in the packages are often still shared. It is a commitment for the rest of the soldier’s tour, but people can also choose to send only one care package without actually adopting a soldier.
Blevins started Support a Soldier after she returned home from a tour in Operation Iraqi Freedom. During her tour, her hometown in Texas worked together to send packages to her, her brother and sister who were also in the army, and the soldiers who served with them.
“I’m just passing on the good that was done to me and my brother and sister when we were deployed,” she said.
Through Treats for Troops Foster-a-Soldier program, participants send packages to a specific soldier, although there is no obligation to send another package. (It is now an option to keep sending packages to the same soldier.) The soldier and the participant do not communicate directly, but all thank you messages are forwarded to the sender.
Angiola prefers adopting a specific soldier and said she plans to adopt another soldier after the private comes home in September and the sergeant comes home in October.
“I felt almost obligated that I needed to do something, especially because of how outspoken about the war I am,” she said. “I didn’t want anyone to think I wanted any ill fate towards any of the soldiers.”