A World Away From Walmart

I think the sign on this store in Afghanistan is either humor or some shopkeeper’s overly generous view of his inventory level.

Walmart sign hung on a store in Afghanistan.

A shop in Afghanistan. Not really a Walmart. (Soldier pointing to sign is blurred for privacy.)

Of course, nobody goes to a combat zone for the shopping. But if there were more of a selection, requests wouldn’t have gone out for Matchbox cars, a year’s worth of Hallmark moments and children’s books. All three were different ways that troops tried to feel more connected to home. All three requests came via Soldiers’ Angels who were doing their best to help the troops they adopted in every way they could.

Matchbox contest

Two Airmen were having a friendly contest to see who could get more Matchbox cars. One of them wanted to take pictures of the cars around the base to email to his 4-year-old son and then ship the cars home. This way his son could see where Daddy worked and hold the cars that were there in his hands. Both troops started receiving these small vehicles. However, the Airman with the little boy had been adopted by a Soldiers’ Angel. He happened to mention the contest to her. As a surprise, she put the request out to the group (I am a member) and he received cars and encouraging letters from all across the country. The ones I sent are below. Technically, the NYPD and FDNY are not Matchbox but, I thought his son might like them.

Matchbox cars and note to deployed troop for his care package

(name blurred for privacy)

This Airman was moved by the outpouring of support for both himself and his son. Even his buddy enjoyed seeing how much people cared.

Happy “______” Day

A Soldier with two pre-teen girls wanted to be able to send them cards on every holiday. He always did this at home and wanted to keep that up while he was gone. Creating or keeping small rituals can help people feel closer. However, stationery stores aren’t easy to find. So his Angel put the word out.

Now you may be wondering what happens if he gets more than he needs? The thing is, troops share. They share with each other and, if the items can be used by the local orphanages or the community, they share there as well. In fact, many troops donate time, effort and goods to those in need. One of my readers, blogger and Soldier Jenny O, is among them.

Cat In The (camouflage) Hat

Why would troops need children’s books? Because they wanted to read to their children at night over skype. Β Or to record themselves and send it home. It’s another one of those little rituals that mean even more if you are separated. To be able to maintain it is something special for both parent and child. So I purged my daughter Sofia’s bookshelf and then got a few new ones too. That night when we had storytime I had tears in my eyes and an ache in my heart. Other families were trying hard to have that very moment. Β I didn’t want to take it for granted. After all, it’s one of those you can’t buy in a store. No matter what the sign says.

Β© Gina left the mall, 2013

20 thoughts on “A World Away From Walmart

  1. Thank you for sharing all the many wonderful ways we keep in touch with our hearts while deployed. I love the idea of the cars, my buddy has his son & he had sent cards, the idea of the photos is something I think he’d love to add! And books are amazing, we got a shipment of the Night before Christmas where you could record your voice? My 20 year old called me a dork & listened to it till the battery wore out. πŸ˜‰

    • Jenny, glad you love the car/photo idea and that is too funny about your son! I guess there are some things our heart never outgrows. Also, thank you for sharing the story and photos of your visit to the orphanage on your blog. (I agree with those boys about chocolate over sour gummies!) The more acts of kindness in the world, the better πŸ™‚

  2. I remember that we did shoe prints for one deployment. We called it project stand with your hero. We also did a card swap for that year’s Christmas.

    For Pop, we did handprints… “We give you a hand”… and a valentine “heart attack” box.

    Lesson: even the smallest gesture can change the outlook of an entire day.

  3. We sent my husband a large (like 4ft long) rubber snake and a nerf gun for Christmas… These have been used in endless pranks lol. For Halloween, the kids and I dressed up like the Avengers… So we sent Daddy a hat that had black fuzzy hair on top and a wide green band with black eyebrows stitched onto it. The pictures I have of “the Incredible Hulk” are hilarious! Sometimes it really is just the little things. Our Brigade is known as the “Rakkasans” and we have out symbol of the Torii. My kids have used stickers to decorate Torii pictures for nearly every holiday and sent them to daddy. It’s all the little things that keep a family connected when they are together. It’s not a series of large events, but an endless stream of little things… That doesn’t change during deployment.

    • I absolutely LOVE the hat with green band and EYEBROWS stitched onto it!! Every family has their “little things” … their own loving connections. I understand and appreciate the creativity involved in keeping them going when one family member is far away. I am sure your husband’s buddies must look forward to his care packages– I’m sitting here laughing and I’ve never even seen one!

      And for those like me who didn’t know what “Rakkasans” meant, I did a quick search and it means “falling umbrella” or “falling down umbrella men” in Japanese. It seems someone didn’t know how to translate “airborne soldiers” and so it became Rakkasans. This was right after WWII. If I got that wrong, let me know and I’ll revise πŸ™‚

      • The story is that the Japanese didn’t have a word for “airborne soldier” so yes, loosely translated we are the “falling down umbrella” brigade lol It’s a nice distinction though, pretty sure we are one of only a few Brigades in the Army that has it’s own symbol. Our history says that Rakkasans have been present in every major conflict for the last 60 years or so… We are very proud to be Rakkasans πŸ™‚

        And yes, the care packages are hilarious at times. I sent him some new snacks and he got the box today… He said “thank you for the gift, love the Emerald Nuts boxes, those are going to be gone quickly” lol I knew I should have sent him more than two boxes. The giant rubber snake has caused a bit of a fuss though… It seems one of the NCOs my husband works closely with is “not a fan” of snakes… They’ve tied it to his office chair so when he pulls out his chair here comes this huge snake… They left it in his bed one night LOL And I encourage it. smh

  4. Skype must be a real godsend for the soldiers and their families…what a fantastic way to do storytime. I’m one of those people who’ll buy cards for every occasion and keep them handy in my desk drawer, so I can relate to the greeting card idea. Reading posts like this really brings home the fact that our troops are everyday people like the rest of us, with the same concerns and dreams.

    • I think skype has made a huge difference. (Although not everyone is lucky enough to have regular internet access.) And yes, while their jobs can be very far from our everyday experience, they never stop having the everyday dreams and concerns that we all do.

    • If I had to guess, I would say that his main concern was doing whatever he could to “reach” his son in the most impactful way possible. It is very hard to explain deployment to a young child. For some, the separation is quite traumatic. His son was also Special Needs so that upped the difficulty level in his emotional comprehension. This boy loved Matchbox cars so…that is why he choose them.

  5. Gina, last night my wife and I re-watched Jean Renoir’s “Grande Illusion.” It’s the first war movie I remember seeing as a child, and the one that does the most to humanize all those individuals suffering and experiencing the tragedy and separation of war. I was very moved by this picture in my head of soldiers reading to their children over skype. It brought tears to my eyes.

    • NP,
      The tenderness of storytime amidst difficulty and danger….the power of love (and technology) to put a parent bedside from 6,000 miles away… is very moving indeed. And I have never seen Grande Illusion, but perhaps I should.

  6. Pingback: Manufactured in America | Buoyed Up

  7. aww I love the matchbox car idea! my husband is deployed right now and each month we have been trying to think of a fun thing to do with the kids (3 and 2). Jan we did a photo a day challenge with points we could earn towards a prize, that way he got a snapshot of each day. we may have to do this one πŸ™‚ You have an amazing heart for our military and families! We are so encouraged by your blog πŸ™‚ Thanks for being you!

    • Thank you for this kind note. It means a lot to know that I’m doing something positive πŸ™‚ I’m sure the kids loved the photo a day project. If you do the cars, I hope that’s a hit too! I wish I knew more kid-projects. If I hear of anything, I’ll pass it along. In the meantime, please tell your husband that I thank him for his service. Please know that I’m also grateful for all that your entire family does as well.

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