Saturday, December 13, 2008

Chaplains receive care packages from thoughtful Americans

Story by Lance Cpl. Ronald W. Stauffer

CAMP BARBER, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Like most forward deployed units, the Marines and sailors of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, and Combat Logistics Battalion-3 find themselves separated from relatives and friends this holiday season by thousands of miles of oceans, mountains and desert sands.

Luckily, generous care packages from across America are flooding the military post offices in this remote region of the world to help spread holiday cheer to those who have answered the call with Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan.

Both 3/8’s and CLB-3’s religious ministry teams have received more than 500 packages of all shapes and sizes from public schools, banks, town councils, former service members and military supporters in hometown America, and they’re working endlessly to distribute the gifts to the Marines and sailors.

“It’s the amazing generosity of the American people,” said Navy Lt. j.g. Jason M. DiPinto, a chaplain with 3/8. “They’ve opened their hearts and given us an abundance of care packages.”

DiPinto said some of the packages are specifically intended for the holidays and some are not, but regardless they’re all for the U.S. Marines and sailors who’ve come to Afghanistan.

Originating as a 3/8-led project, CLB-3’s chaplains have joined forces with 3/8 to ensure the packages are distributed throughout the units. As an ongoing effort before the holidays, the chaplains’ offices are currently preparing the boxes for special delivery to several forward operating bases in the coming days.

“I get choked up to see the generosity of people I’ve never met and will probably never get to meet who send all these wonderful packages,” said Navy Lt. Karen Rector, a chaplain with CLB-3. “It’s the little things that count, and nothing is taken for granted, especially when you’ve read a card from a mother who lost her own son in Iraq.”

She said she’s noticed a lot of packages from veterans, who might not have experienced generosity like this themselves.

“Not everyone can serve in a uniform, but it doesn’t mean they’re not patriotic. People have found a different way to serve the military,” Rector said. “Some do it because they have family members who serve or they’re asked, and the Marines and sailors are grateful for it.”
Each box and letter received is cataloged by the chaplains before being distributed to a lucky recipient, and the service members are returning thank you letters in appreciation.

“It shows that people actually care that we’re so far from home and want to give back,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Dana S. Jones, an independent duty corpsman with CLB-3. “I believe in every unique way, we are combined by a greater force with somebody we don’t know and that we are a family in one way or another.”

Coming from a small family herself, Jones said it’s great to be able to receive gifts and letters because it makes her feel like people are thinking of her. She also said it has a dramatic effect on the moral of the troops.

“It’s not about what’s in the box, it’s about people caring and it’s more than we could ever ask for,” said Pfc. Rebecca L. Ortego, a combat engineer with CLB-3. “These people don’t know us, but they care about our cause and our needs.”

Every last item in the packages is important, Ortego explained. According to her, if someone gets a package, the Marines and sailors all share the contents.

“My biggest joy is becoming a conduit for grace, joy and love,” DiPinto said. “I wish (the people) could see what I see and the faces of the Marines and sailors when they get the boxes.”
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