Friday, April 10, 2009

Good People

Though it may be viewed by some as simply warm and fuzzy and lacking in substance, there are a few people and organizations that I wish to raise awareness to for the reason they have personally helped me or others. If nothing else, I am hopeful that their mention further encourages those already involved in these efforts, invites others to join them, and increases support for a universally appealing cause – that of troop support and returned veterans.

There are a few people have impacted me directly, powerfully, and to this day continue to enrich my life immensely. Foremost among them is XXXX.

While she will probably get mad at me for posting this (oh well), I want to make everybody aware of a great personal friend, confidant and tireless laborer for the cause of troop support and veteran advocacy.

XXXX first started writing to me while I was on my first tour in 2004-5. She and her non-profit ensured each member of my platoon received extensive supplies, and even individual Christmas packages. Like most of us, I forgot about all this when I got home in 2005.

During my second tour (2005-6), I remember vaguely writing to a lady that kept up with us, sent us piles of things we couldn't obtain through our own supply lines, and inundated us with encouraging letters, packages, and notes from home. I may have only written back one thank you letter, if that.

During my third tour (2007), I received an e-mail from a lady who announced, to my astonishment, that she'd been writing to me during all my tours, and even provided copies of my old letters to prove it. Somewhat taken aback, I e-mailed and thanked her for her loyal support, her tenacity in the face of my forgetfulness, and her ongoing dedication to me and others as we scattered hither and yon over the years. She has been a friend ever since.

Her organization, a grassroots campaign founded outside XXXX for the sole purpose of troop support, collaborates with local businesses, schools, and even the local government to ensure the men and woman overseas are well stocked and encouraged. Furthermore, they have even arranged very elaborate and touching welcome-home parties for a number of local servicemembers. At the moment, XXXX and XXXX (who has two sons in Iraq right now) co-chair this non-profit, local pastor XXXX serves as their secretary and XXXX is treasurer. The organization’s motto is fitting, and they live by it. XXXX is frequently swamped with speaking engagements in schools and other venues, securing sponsorship from local businesses, and coordinating mass mailings of packages to various units and individuals through the middle east. Having been the recipient of some of their supplies, I can say they are thorough, thoughtful, and designed to boost morale, sugar levels, and overall creature comfort for the men and women in uniform.

After extensive correspondence and lots of packages and letters over the years, I had the opportunity to meet XXXX and her family when I returned in mid-2007. They made the mistake of feeding me, listened to me talking late into night, and she has since endured me unloading about veterans issues, relationship problems, trials, travels, failures and great successes. I have been delighted to watch her organization grow in size, clout, and service to the troops, and heartened to know that the woman who firmly stands behind their efforts is an incredible patriot, a loving mother, wife, and daughter of a military hero herself (Battle of the Bulge, WWII). She is family to me, really, and a second mother to not only me, but many others. On Mothers' Day, I'll call her and tell her this. Here is a link to their brochure: (since removed)

And XXXX is just one of many.

Another two are Jody Nelson and her daughter April, who cleverly shipped me an indestructible coffeemaker and bulk quantities of coffee, cups, and hot chocolate to ease our misery in the cold, wet Iraqi winter. During that tour I did some clever negotiating and wound up with a power converter in my humvee and the coffee maker mounted right next to the radio. Despite horrific road conditions and repeatedly dumping entire pots of coffee into my lap, the coffeemaker and even the glass pot itself continued to serve us flawlessly. During one particularly long operation while working with US and Iraqi special forces, I would serve coffee daily to over 40 men. We all owe Jody and April immensely for this.

During my final tour, Jody graced me with perhaps my most memorable gift yet: several disposable pans of brownies she had carefully baked, wrapped, and somehow managed to ship unscathed. This was the only gift I have ever received that I rarely shared. Everybody knew better than to ask. They were MY brownies. I can’t thank her enough for this.

Upon reading my recent remarks about how the troops would like cookies, a good friend immediately set to baking, and soon will be sending off dozens of morale-boosting cookies to my friends overseas. I have not obtained her permission to list her name as of yet, but she deserves recognition all the same. Cookies work miracles on guys stuck in the desert. Trust me. You can never have enough of them.

There are organizations and businesses also rallied to help the men and women overseas.

Since at this time I have not asked for her permission to print her name and organization, I can only state that I have a friend high up in a publishing company who, upon learning recently of my deployed friends, did some legwork and quickly shipped well over fifty brand new books, heaps of magazines, and playing cards to them and their units. If I can secure permission to post her name and company, I will make the appropriate amendments immediately. I am deeply indebted to her and her corporation for their caring contributions to my friends, and also to the hundreds of other stateside troops that they have visited, supplied, and cheered up over the past several months. In fact, May finds them hosting an event for the wounded warriors at Walter Reid medical center. This, too, is worthy of note. So thank you, friend, and I hope to put a name in here soon (if you allow it).

*Update: my friend has permitted me to list the company that has so graciously provided these materials: Galaxy Press

A relatively new online non-profit has also stepped in to help disabled veterans as much as they are able. When the founders of started their organization, it was designed to help alleviate whatever material and financial burdens wounded veterans were experiencing to permit them to focus more of their time and energy to their own recoveries. Now, after major media coverage and a great deal of additional publicity within the military, government and private sector, is a nationally-known, all-volunteer non-profit dedicated to posting disabled veterans’ needs online and alerting the donors that wish dearly to help meet those needs. Donors can provide physical items, donate to a monetary need, or even handle a need in full with the click of a few buttons on their computers.

I recently began working for as a writer, which afforded me the privilege of speaking directly with a number of these assisted veterans and their families. It has been a tremendously encouraging and simultaneously heartbreaking experience to listen to these veterans, in various stages of recovery, state how much they were helped, how things often still aren’t going superbly, but they want other veterans to see THEIR needs met before they request further assistance. Even in the midst of their greatest hardships, coupled with bills, family situations, rehabilitation and varying degrees of disability, they remain dedicated to their brothers and sisters in arms. I am honored to have made their acquaintance, and look forward to future conversations with them. Should anybody be uncertain how to help disabled veterans, I would personally recommend visiting the website and considering donating to the real, individual, and personal needs of the men and women listed therein. After speaking to a number of them, they are grateful, honored, and now freed to devote more energy to their recoveries.

I have overlooked others, no doubt, and this is unintentional, but the aforementioned are those that most immediately come to mind as good men and women, great friends, and great supporters of the men and women serving this country. They are often unsung heroes, since the attention falls to veterans themselves, not to those that supported them. Well, I remember them, and know quite well how much they helped me, inspired me, and emboldened me to do more for my friends and comrades.

What is most noteworthy, however, is what their actions and efforts indicate. They are not guilt-driven or obligatory, but rooted in genuine compassion and unwavering support for those who defend this country. Their message, if it was put to words, would be this:

“We don’t know you, but we may know somebody that does. Regardless, we are praying for you, we stand behind you, and desire your safe return. And when that time comes, we will be here, we will greet you as patriots, heroes, and victors, and we will not forget.”

Nor, then, shall we forget you.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved