During his 12 deployments since Sept. 11, 2001, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Kurt Barry was on the receiving end of care packages sent to soldiers overseas.
He volunteered at an Operation Handwarmer packing party Tuesday to prepare care packages for those currently deployed.
“A little something from home always makes you feel special,” Barry said. “One of the benefits of being over there, you know exactly what they want.”
Barry made sure to pack a lot of Slim Jims and beef jerky, and anything with lots of sugar and preservatives for the soldiers who have what they need, but aren’t always able to get the treats they want.
More than 18,000 handwarmers, about 6,000 more than last year, and more than 3,000 miscellaneous items like baby wipes, snack foods and candy were collected during the second annual “operation,” organized through Century 21 Larry Miller Realty. Volunteers met for the packing party to count and pack items, collected since early November, and address boxes to be shipped to deployed soldiers.
“They’ll be in soldiers’ hands the day after Christmas,” coordinator Burt Sappenfield said. “And 100 percent of the funds (and donations) go to the troops. When you give, it goes directly to the soldiers in the field.”
The drive focuses mainly on handwarmers, desperately needed by soldiers deployed to Afghanistan, a desert country with extreme temperatures, especially during the winter months.
U.S. Army Capt. Edwin Seda, a company commander with the 551st Signal Battalion Training Company, brought several students to help pack.
Seda also realizes the importance of the packages as he enjoyed some during his 2009-2010 deployment.
“It means a lot,” Seda said. “It’s pretty cold up there. It’s cold. There’s a lot of snow. Those handwarmers put a good smile on my face. ... It warms you up (while on constant patrols of the battlefields).”
Sappenfield said he’s also sending camouflage handwarmer muffs for the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the Night Stalkers. Those in the helicopter support regiment fly attack and reconnaissance missions with the helicopter doors open, even in below-freezing temperatures.
The packages also contain some handwritten Christmas cards and letters.
The soldiers always like to hear from home and Seda thanked the group for sending the care packages.
“We’re very appreciative of that.”