Made-in-Montana care packages elicit flurry of thank-you notes from troops in Iraq
Often, when you donate to a goodwill cause and spend money on things to ship to foreign lands, you wonder if the stuff ever got there, or to the people you sent it to.
Madeline Morris, a Hellgate high school student, knows that it does.
Back in March, Morris sent out fliers, called businesses and tapped friends, friends of friends and strangers to donate Montana-made products to send in care packages to American soldiers in Iraq.
Word went out across western Montana and thousands of items - including cash donations - came flooding into Missoula, where Morris assembled the packages with the help of Wayne Fairchild, a retired paratrooper with the Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade.
Fairchild's good friend, Lewistown resident Maj. Bob Hanley e-mailed from Iraq to say he promised Morris' packages would get to the paratroopers, and he promised he would be sure the Montana soldiers would get priority.
With that assurance from the 173rd's second-highest ranking officer, Morris and Fairchild conducted operation care package from Fairchild's business, Lewis & Clark Trail Adventures on E. Broadway.
Across the street at Eastgate plaza, the Shipping Depot was a willing recruit for the effort, and used financial donations to help pay the $700 bill to ship 27 boxes - over 1,200 pounds of beef jerky, lip balm, huckleberry candies, playing cards and postcard pictures from home - to Hanley and his troops.
Last week, thank-yous from Kirkuk, Iraq started rolling in.
Most of the messages were scrawled on the Montana postcards Morris packed into each box, some were cut-to-size postcards made from the back of rice boxes, and one was on Saddam Hussein stationery found in an Iraqi government building secured by the 173rd.
The soldiers' handwritten notes, Morris said, are a wonderful surprise.
"It's really neat to get them, and it really makes the project worthwhile," she said.
"At first, I was so scared this project wasn't going to work, but then I became overwhelmed by how people were so willing to help me out and donate things," she said.
"The letters are addressed to me and Wayne, but really, they are thank you notes to everyone in western Montana," Morris said. "Western Montana made this happen, and it makes me feel so good about my community."
This is what some of messages had to say:
"Thank you so much for the postcards. You live in a beautiful state! My sister in-law, Sue Erickson lives in Polson. I have not been there, but I love their pictures. My soldiers and I are using the postcards you sent to keep in touch with family and friends. Thanks again for your thoughtfulness and support. All the way,"
Cpt. Ed Buck
"Thank you for taking the time to think about all of the paratroopers from the 173d ABN BDE. We greatly appreciate your support. I'm not from Montana, however, I am your neighbor to the east (ND) along with that I have wrestled many tournaments in Montana so I can appreciate the beauty. Again, thank you for your kind gestures, Airborne!!!,"
"I just wanted to take some time to let you know how wonderful all your support has been. Each of us are blessed to have people like you behind us. Your kindness keeps us motivated. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Sincerely,"
SSg William Herold.
Really appreciated the support you have shown the troops over here. Means a lot to know US personnel are behind the job the soldiers are doing. Thanks and Godspeed,"
Cpt. David Horn
"Thanks for supporting us! MRE's are getting old. We hope all is well you and your family!"
From Kirkuk, 173rd
"Thank you kindly for you care packages and support! It's amazing how much the people here in N. Iraq love us. I was skeptical before, but now I believe we're doing the right thing. And now we can do the right thing without chapped lips,"
Pfc White Derek
"Thank you for your generous donation. The postcards are great because it reminds us of the great USA and also it is very quick and easy to stay in touch with loved ones. Thanks again!"
CPT Shawn Fitzgerald.
"Working in the 501st Forward Support Co with the MEDPL. Appreciate the box of goodies. Ol' D Batt was the first section to light up the sky. Many thanks to you and those like you that have sent us cards and treats. The postcards definitely serve as a reminder of what we're working for, Thank you,"
CPT Martin Reidy
"I just wanted to let you know that that you are all the heroes in this company - so much stuff! I can't believe all the thought and care you have put into these packages - it means so much to us and the sky soldiers of the 173 ABN BDE. I know for a fact that Maj. Hanley has personally ensured everyone had something from one of your care packages. I have been to Montana a few times, my best friend from college ( Seattle University ) is from Billings, so I have driven from Seattle to Billings and I love Montana! Thank you so much!"
Capt Tricia Cawdrey
"I have so much fun watching other soldiers go through the packages and ooh and ahh over the goodies inside….
I fell in love with Montana in 1984 when I went to Glacier National Park with my father. We traveled there on Amtrack."
"Greetings from Kirkuk, Iraq!
Just wanted to send a big thank you for the gifts you sent to us. It is a great boost to morale when all of us paratroopers get things in the mail from well-wishers back in the states. Just want to let you know your gift was appreciated by many.
Thank you so much and God Bless America!"
"I just wanted to drop you a note to thank you for the care package we received from you through Maj. Hanley. It was a great morale booster for the troops, both due to the contents and the knowledge that the folks back home are thinking about us. I especially liked the huckleberry candies since they reminded me of the wild berry jellies and candy my grandmother used to make back home in Arkansas. Again, Thank you, and know that your support is appreciated."
"Sorry I sent you one of your cards, but it was either this or a chicken cavetelli box with chicken cavetelli on it.
Life here is good. We are dry!!! Hot showers are on the way, and people like you think of us.
We owe a great debt of gratitude to great Americans like you who support us.
Thank you for the writing material it's a big help. Maybe I will be able to convince mom I'm in Montana. That way she will quit worrying about me so much.
By the way, a beautiful stay y'all live in. Thanks for bringing a piece of America to Iraq. Thanks Again,"
"Thanks a lot for the care package. Today has been a sobering day, as eventually you may hear about what happened on May 03 at Kirkuk. Can't really say much, but know that in this world where the difference between the regular monotony of a "normal" day in Iraq can suddenly shift to what horrors only war offers.
Your compassion and kindness to strangers is testament to your patriotism-you made a difference. Thanks."
"On behalf of the soldiers of Bco., 1-508 1N, 173rd Airborne Brigade, I'd like to say thank you for the package you sent.
The treats are a great change from the "Meals Ready to Eat" we normally snack on. But its also very nice for everyone to know that people back home are taking the time to show support - that support is much appreciated.
I was happy to see that the package came from Montana. I grew up in Helena, and have family in Missoula. Perhaps you know Kyre and Rich Gibbons, my aunt and uncle.
Well, thanks again for your support. Respectfully,"
1Lt James Andrew Person
"My name is Spc. Patrick Weber. Maj Hanley brought me one of the awesome care packages that ya'll sent to us and on behalf of the guys in the Battery, I want to tell you thank you very much. It is heart lifting knowing that we have so much support from the folks back home. Your package was a huge morale lifter for us and we have been stuffing our faces with all the great stuff that was stuffed inside. We are in a city called Kirkuk, well right outside on the airfield.
This paper was taken from one of the buildings that we cleared when we got here. Everything here is going well and we hope to be going back to Fort Drum soon so we can catch the mission to Afghanistan. Again thank you very much for taking the time out of your day to mail some of home to us here. Please take care and pray for us and this great nation that we are blessed to live in. Sincerely,"