Beer Nuts Save Christmas. Sort of.

I received this card from a Marine on Nov.15th. He wrote, “I know this is early but I wanted to make sure I was the first holiday card.” I laughed, thinking I had all the time in the world to get my Christmas care packages out. Of course, I was wrong.

X-mas card from Afghanistan

Christmas is December 3rd

First of all, the deadline the U.S. Post Office set for sending packages to certain deployed areas is December 3rd for delivery by Christmas. So I really had about two weeks to get my act together. No problem. As long as everything goes according to plan at work and home I should be okay.

What are the chances I’ll have to work late or that a birthday sleepover party for my daughter would take more time than I thought? Sure I was going away for Thanksgiving for the first time, which meant I was down to one week…but this is still doable.

I just have to come up with something creative, warm, sweet, and simple for 3 Soldiers and 1 Marine who are all currently in the Middle East. (All four are troops that I supported on their last tour.) Then pack the boxes and get them to the Post Office via public transpiration during that magic window of ‘before they close” and “still enough time to get home for the sitter.”

You know how some people are re-gifters? No judgment, but I’m not. It’s just not my (admittedly time-saving) habit. If you come up with a gift idea right away, all is well. As you may have guessed, I was drawing a blank. As a bonus, work and home did not cooperate. I realized that while I’d make the deadline for three troops, for one Soldier, I would not. I knew his family would make sure he’d have something to open. But I would miss Christmas for him and I felt terrible.

An option would be just to send it late. A better option would be to turn back time and begin sooner. Every year I promise myself to start earlier and I don’t. In fairness, every year I also promise myself to start a serious exercise regime after the New Year and that doesn’t happen either. So I should know better than to believe me.

Beer Nuts save the day

The one Soldier I failed was on my mind when I happened to be food shopping. Then suddenly a light bulb went off in my head. This light bulb was shaped like the package of Beer Nuts on the shelf in front of me. “BEER” as in alcohol which made me think of New Year’s Eve.

This Soldier is very sociable, a “life of the party” kind of guy. What if I sent him a New Year’s Eve Party in a box? Of course, I can’t send real alcohol. However, along with beer nuts, I can send “Happy 2014” eyeglasses, beads, party favors, chips, dip, glow sticks bracelets and lanterns. I could also send him coffee for the next morning that was Baily’s flavored and so on. You get the idea.

Yes I was too late for Christmas, but I’d be right on time to help him ring in a shiny New Year full of promise, hope, and fresh chances to do things better.

© Gina left the mall, 2013

Combat Golf

My adopted soldier found a driver in Afghanistan. I assumed that meant “chauffeur.”  Nope, he meant golf club. Of course. So I figured I’d send him some golf balls. Then I saw how expensive they were. I revised my plan to be: I think I’ll ask everyone I know to give me some used golf balls.

I went to the usual suspects and got a small pile. But I wanted more. I wanted to fill a box and have them spill out in his brick hut when he opened it. Sort of an interactive care package.

I know a guy…

As luck would have it, I shared this plan with my friend Tina. Tina knew of a guy who would dive for lost balls in a golf course lake, clean them and then sell them out of the trunk of his car on a certain street in Staten Island. Of course.

Tina graciously handled the deal and commuted in with a LOT of golf balls. I filled a few flat-rate boxes. Then I had the problem of carrying these heavy boxes to the post office.  Once again, it was Tina to the rescue (thanks T!)

Balls in the zone

All the balls made it to the combat zone. My soldier opened the boxes (no, they didn’t spill) and ran to get the biggest golf lovers in the unit. Picture three guys, eyes wide, very happy.  They went to the roof of their brick hut to create a driving range. However, I did not think to send a golf TEE.  I’m not very sporty. No problem. Our soldiers are resourceful. They used a shell casing.

Yes I know the picture is cut off. As always, I edit for privacy and OPSEC/PERSEC (Operational Security and Personal Security) guidelines.

My adopted soldier in A'stan hitting the golf balls I sent off the roof of his brick hut.

Shagging (UK readers, this is not what you think)

The soldiers hit the balls off the roof and had a great time doing it. There were not a lot of entertainment options at this remote mountain base. Then something surprising happened the next day. Some Afghan children came to the FOB with their shirts held out and filled with golf balls. They had shagged the balls and wanted to sell them back to the soldiers.

A price was agreed upon. The children were paid in cash or brass shell casings. Children would often collect the casings because they were worth .50 each in the local economy.

The soldiers hit them off the roof again. Again the kids shagged the balls and sold them back. This went on until his unit pulled out. He left the driver and the balls for next unit.

You don’t realize what you did

I was just happy that I helped a few guys have a little fun.  When I shared this story with another soldier he said,

“You don’t realize what you did. We’re not welcome here. You gave them a positive way to interact with the community. The kids are the lookouts when the bad guys are planting IEDs. Getting the kids on your side is huge. You probably saved lives”

Okay, I don’t think I saved lives. But maybe I helped a few of those positive interactions with the kids. Reduced a little stress for the soldiers.  And that officially makes this my best (and only) golf game ever.

© Gina left the mall, 2012

A Sailor Wrecks My Indifference

Life-Changing Event wasn’t my plan that morning. We had no plans. But the USS Intrepid had a plane with shark teeth, my 4-year-old daughter was in a “shark phase” and that’s how we found ourselves on a flight deck.

Sofia (the 4-year-old) wanted to leave immediately because flight decks are hot. On August 16, 2009, a sweltering NYC day made it “super hot.” Instead, I took her to the air-conditioned lower deck.  One exhibit had a film playing about the ship. We had missed most of it, so I pulled her away. But with pre-K mega-strength, she dragged me back.

The Sailor

I stood there watching black and white footage of the ship being attacked. I sensed the man to my right moving closer. I turned towards him and he said, “I was there that day. I was there.” Then he turned back to the screen and stared intently. He was an elderly gentleman wearing ID badges that said Former Crew Member and Plank Owner.

When the film ended, he walked away to talk to a few people. At that point, I had no idea that walking up to someone in the military and personally thanking them was something people did. I didn’t know anyone in the military. I never ran into troops. But I said to Sofia, “do you see that man over there? He did something brave on this ship that helped protect us. I want you to go say thank you”

Pre-Wreck

Sofia started buzzing around the group trying to get this Sailor’s attention. He kept talking to the adults. I thought to myself that this was a mistake. Retract!! Retract!!

But after a few long minutes he finally said very loudly and with mock exasperation, “Yes, little girl…what can I do for you?” Just as loudly, Sofia replied, “Thank you for being brave on the boat! I like your boat!!!”

Everyone stopped talking. His eyes filled with tears. His wife became teary. So did the others with them. I walked over to see what was wrong and his wife said to me under her breath, “Thank you for her words. You have no idea how much they mean. This is the last time he can visit the ship. This is his last time here.”

Then It Hit Me

As we walked away I started thinking about my Mom. She’s from the Philippines and if it wasn’t for American G.I.s, she might not be here, then I wouldn’t be here and Sofia wouldn’t be here. And I don’t remember thanking a single one of those thousands of Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen.

So that night I went home, did some research, and adopted a U.S. Soldier who was deployed to the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. I never imagined where that first step would lead me.

My adopted soldier's Combat Outpost in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan

My adopted soldier’s combat outpost in the mountains of Afghanistan.

© Gina left the mall, 2012