On a recent trip out to Dulles Airport as a volunteer to welcome World War II Veterans to Washington DC I had the privilege of an extended chat to a young woman serving in our US Air Force stationed at Bolling Air Force Base.
She had joined the Air Force after leaving high school as a way to help her family and pay her way through college. She has served for seventeen years, stateside and overseas and had been stationed both in Iraq & Afghanistan.
She shared how both missions in the Middle East were “scary”
In the course of our “chat” I mentioned that when I first stopped working I joined “Books for Soldiers” as a way to take my self-pity and direct it where it really would do some good. I felt that by doing something good for others I might make my problems take a back seat.
I send many packages and completely cleared my closets and shelves of books I had read but might never read again or books I had received that did not truly interest me. I bought paperbacks from yard sales after mine were gone and then I expanded my packages to include things such as tube socks, playing cards, pens, paper and various other items that are hard to come by when you are in the desert and in a far off post. Some of the posts in Afghanistan do not have a PX or anywhere the troops can pick up items they need. Interestingly one of the things that are most popular is plastic baggies. These are used for snacks, toiletries and other personal items that the soldiers want to keep free of sand. Who would have thought!
I have found that you get none to little feedback from the “field” and you just know that somewhere out there a serviceman or woman is enjoying what you have sent.
Speaking to this young Air Force member she assured me that any and all packages are greeted with great excitement and any items that can be passed on are done so, over and over again. I didn’t know but she also said that the books are signed and dated by the recipient before passing along so they can see where it has been and how many people have enjoyed it. I thought this was awesome!
Let me tell you a little about how it all works.
First you decide that this is something you, your group, your church or your family want to participate in.
Go to the “Books for Soldiers” website and print off the application form. Once done, fill out then go to your bank and have it notarized. This is a step to have some idea who is sending packages and to make sure that the items are approved for sending. There are many items that cannot be sent due to the soldiers been stationed in predominately Muslim countries.
Once accepted into the program you are then able to access the information on the website and this is the beauty of it to me. There are sections for all the different branches plus ones for “the forgotten soldier” (someone who gets no mail) the wounded soldier and the soldiers who have extra security who cannot post.
You get to browse through the names and read the requests. Usually it is a fellow serviceman who thinks someone needs some extra attention or greetings. Sometimes it is the Platoon leader putting in a request for his men… send videos etc. something they can enjoy as a group. I tend to look for the women and try to fill special requests. Sometimes a name or a request just jumps out at you and you fill a box accordingly.
If sending a package does not quite suit you there are many requests for something as easy and simple as a birthday card.
What about sending children’s books. Many parents now talk to their kids through Skype and read bedtime stories to their children so far away.
The chance to make a difference goes on and on.
It is a simple and gratifying way to say THANK YOU to our troops.