David French is a SixSeeds Board member and a nationally recognized constitutional lawyer. In 2006, David volunteered for the U.S. Army Reserves as a JAG (Judge Advocates General) officer. He did so out of a commitment to service that ran deep in his family’s ancestral history and his own desire to model the virtue for his children.
In the fall of 2007, David was called to Iraq as part of the Sabre Squadron, 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment. His wife Nancy (author of Red State of Mind, and commentator on National Public Radio’s Weekend America) and their children rallied to meet the challenge. And they mobilized many family friends to send a steady stream of care packages and letters to David’s post in a remote area near the border of Iran.
However, David noticed that many of the enlisted men in his unit never received anything from back home. “Many of them don’t have strong family backgrounds,” noted Captain French, “and they feel this absence keenly in the middle of nowhere and facing the danger of combat.” He reported this situation back to his wife and friends, John and Jean Kingston.
Jean worked with Nancy to address this problem, developing a plan to facilitate consistent support of the soldiers by families across the country. Operation Send-a-Box was formed with the goal of rallying enough families to send perhaps a couple of hundred care packages to the loneliest soldiers in Sabre Squadron.
The initial response was stunning.
In places ranging from Boston to Tennessee to California, children joined with their parents to purchase and package DVDs, reading materials, snacks, and bedding. The diversity of the response was remarkable, ranging from an entire church in Tennessee to neighborhood kids in Massachusetts to a 93 year-old woman in Utah. One Pennsylvania man described his participation on a national political web site.
The impact on the troops’ morale was profound. “When you’re alone out there in the desert,” said Capt. French, “any sign of appreciation from back home makes a huge difference.” David reported that when the boxes started stacking up, it was a main topic of conversation and wonder: “Our squadron command group was amazed by the outpouring of support, noting they’d never seen anything like it, and even General David Petraeus, commander of all the troops in Iraq, took an interest in this project.”
Based on the initial response, the project decided to aim for the ambitious goal of a care package for every soldier in the 1,000 member squadron.
What ensued was a testament to the multiplicative power of family based service and giving.
Families began to recruit other families, despite even differing political views of the war itself. Some families like the Carter family in the Washington D.C. area even sponsored Operation Send-a-Box parties. Kris Carter reported:
I'm glad to report that we have 43 boxes (and counting) to add to the list. Like other folks, we were shooting for 25, but managed to significantly overshoot thanks to the generosity of many friends. It was great fun for us to participate, especially with the stories you hear from store clerks at Bed, Bath & Beyond or Costco. The manager at Bed Bath & Beyond told us all about his daughter who is about to be deployed and kept marking things down for us to add to the boxes. It was also great fun having folks over to the house on Saturday to pack the boxes. We had a big party with lots of friends and a few folks that I didn't know previously.
Other friends organized weekends with the theme of supporting David. News of the project spread across the world. SixSeeds even received news that families in other countries like Australia were joining the project.
By Memorial Day of 2008, well over 2,500 boxes had been sent with a total dollar value estimated at nearly a quarter of a million dollars. The effect on the hundreds of families who participated may be of even greater and more enduring impact. John Wunderli described the impact of this project on his own family and its concept of such service:
It was especially touching to me to see a small transformation occur in each of my kids as they sat down to write letters to include in the boxes – a transformation that progressed from reluctance to stop what they were otherwise doing, to uncertainty over what to say, to imagining what the soldiers are going through based on some facts I shared from David's updates, to a little greater appreciation for the soldiers' service, to some very thoughtful letters, to an enthusiastic desire to pack boxes and deliver flyers to their friends and neighbors.
Jean says the Wunderli family’s experience was replicated by families across Winchester, the country and the political spectrum. “Regardless of your view about the war itself,” said Jean, “we can all support the service of these individual soldiers. Plus, it was a lot of fun to work with friends and families to be creative in the effort!”
David returned stateside for a short leave recently and together with Nancy visited the Kingstons in Boston over Memorial Day weekend. In a span of days that included a party with other SixSeeds families, they reflected on the meaning of this extraordinary outpouring of family service and giving. During those conversations, David asked Jean and Nancy – as the architects of Send-A-Box -- to consider ways to facilitate support to Iraqis in Diyala Province through Sabre Squadron.
John has observed that this is consistent with the SixSeeds vision to provide assistance on all sides of difficult situations: “We already have been working to provide assistance to the victims of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (see highlighted box to right) as well as those who serve so nobly in the war. Along with our partners in SixSeeds, we look forward to finding imaginative ways for families to participate in this next chapter of the story."
How you can help:
We're officially declaring Operation Send-a-Box a success and formally completed. However, if as an individual (or as a family), you'd still like to send a care package to a soldier on the front line, please go to the post office to get a “flat rate” box, which ships to APO addresses for $8.95 per package. (The postage is the same regardless of weight or destination, but only USPS-produced flat-rate boxes are eligible for the rate.)
Every package must include:
- Twin size sheet set.
- At least one new DVD
- Personal hygiene items (shampoo, soap, toothpaste, shaving cream, deodorant, toothbrush)
- Reading material (car and motorcycle magazines, Sports Illustrated, paperback book)
Gum, beef jerky, energy bars, Pringles, Powerbars, etc. (nothing that could melt in the desert)
CPT Benjamin Ellington, Chaplain
ATTN: Operation Send-a-Box
HHT 2/3 ACR
Forward Operating Base Caldwell
APO AE 09324
For further information, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org
We'd also welcome your suggestions for how to follow up this project along the lines that David suggested: mobilizing families here in the US to serve Iraqi families in Diyala (where David is serving) struggling to rebuild their country.
Idea for your own family:
If you're going to send boxes, consider allowing all the members of your family to select items for the care package. Before you seal it up, however, you each may want to add a personal letter of encouragement and appreciation. Or, if you pray, include the recipient’s protection in your family prayer time. You might be surprised to know how much that means to soldiers abroad, even those without an obvious religious background.
You could also send a self-addressed stamped envelope, so the soldier could easily contact you. Being pen pals with a person in the military will not only brighten his or her time away from home, it will give you and your children a unique perspective on the war, current events, and life.