Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Art of a "Care Package"

Students at the Shamal Peran School anxiously awaiting the handout of pens that were specially shipped all the way
over to Afghanistan from the good folks at Bedford Federal Savings Bank
While it'd be foolish for me to attempt to personally mention each and every thoughtful soul that has taken the time to send members of the 3-19th ADT a reminder of home; I would be remisce in my duties as a grateful recipient of countless packages if I failed to at least highlight a few.

A few of the literally 500+ boxes of
Girl Scout Cookies sent to the 3-19th ADT
After reading the creative wordsmanship used on several customs receipts, I feel that some should consider a career in politics or lawyering. While there hasn't been anything illegal shipped over per se, much excitement has come from the anticipation levels associated with the thrill of opening a new box of goodies. At the time of writing this- June 30, 2011; an astounding 111 packages have made their way onto FOB Salerno addressed to "1LT Bart Lomont". With return addresses from California to Connecticut; and of course a dominant majority from the generous folks in the Midwest, I have truly been humbled by the remarkable, genuine interest that so many share for our team and mission.

Last fall, as we first arrived FOB Salerno, the initial inquiries began coming in from the usual suspects (with a mother and five older sisters, I often quip that I've been blessed with six mothers). It didn't take me long to realize that there was very little that we here on FOB Salerno actually "needed". With a stocked dining hall featuring all the fresh fruit and energy bars a man could ask for, I really couldn't think of much more that I'd like. Never one to turn down a good offer; I replied with a request for two items that would satisfy two of my vices: coffee and cigars. Since they don't allow alcohol in the country of Afghanistan, I figured that I'd may as well comply with the old adage life's too short for cheap coffee...

Buy Local
Some of the 430 packages of popcorn sent by
MSM Trucking and Weaver Popcorn
One of the unintended benefits I've noticed after receiving all of these packages is the opportunity for my tastebuds to explore uncharted territory. From Willa's Shortbread Cookies in Nashville to Peet's Coffee out of Berkley and heaven forbid I forget to mention My Grandma's Coffee Cake from New England, I'm exhausted just thinking about the culinary road trip the members of our team have taken throughout this past year- all without leaving the comforts of FOB Salerno. Cigars, from different outlets across the country (although the majority came from Stogies at Copper Creek in Jamestown, CA) have also come in. While there is no way I could ever drink all of this coffee or smoke all of these cigars alone, the packages have done wonders for my social life as well ;-)

As my strategic reserves started to fill to capacity with coffee beans and tobacco leaves, I decided it was probably best to flip the switch on the shipments of stogies and coffee. Instead, included with my "halt shipping" instructions I included a list of needs for a local family here in the Khowst Province. The family had tragically been the victims of a firefight in the local area, with four children all having severe injuries as they came in to the FOB Salerno Hospital. From blankets to childrens jackets, over 20 packages came in just in time for the Christmas holiday. Much to my dismay, after confirming with the family that they would be coming into the hospital for future therapy visits, they were never seen again. Fear not though, as you might imagine there are plenty of other needy folks around the Khowst Province. After several months of determining a worthy recipient, the goods were delivered to a local girls school and I'm told that the reaction was that of extreme gratitude.

The Middleman
While I have to say that I've thoroughly enjoyed partaking in a fine cigar or imbibing in a tasty cup of coffee; it wasn't until I started passing some of the goods I'd received out to friends here on the FOB that I learned the truth behind the statement "to give is better than to receive". Actually, I think I had the best of both worlds in this sense, as I was able to enjoy both the joy of receiving the package in the mail and also the joy of passing the goods out to their needy recipients.

As the 3-19th ADT is one of the only groups currently deployed from the Indiana National Guard, the generosity of Hoosiers has been truly overwhelming. This was especially noticeable around Christmas time, as the packages literally came in quicker than we could pass them out. The most popular items we've recieved would have to be girl scout cookies and popcorn, with shipments of those two numbering in the 500's!

Teddy Bears for the Troops
Another group that I've grown quite close to through this deployment is that of "Teddy Bears for the Troops", started by a young girl named Faith in Lafayette, Indiana. Ironically, Faith and I actually met back in 2008 when I paid her a visit in Lafayette to present her with Lt. Governor Skillman's Hoosier Rising Star award. It's funny how things work out, immediately after hearing that I was going to be a part of a deploying unit, the packages started to flow in from Faith and her group. I believe Faith has now sent over five large boxes, filled with her signature stuffed animal and a note from a student, for us to pass out across FOB Salerno. As you can see in the photos, a few have even made their way into the hands of locals. While many of our men won't admit that they still sleep with their teddy bears, I'll gladly concede that the personalized bear Faith sent over sleeps within an arms reach each and every night.

A Deserving Home

The most recent "joy of giving" sensation I've had the opportunity to experience came just this past weekend. I've mentioned my Ugandan friends in past blogs, a group of devoted men that are some of the friendliest fellows you've ever met. The Ugandans are here on FOB Salerno as contractors, working as escorts for any local Afghan national who does not have clearance to walk the FOB on their own. I first met this wonderful group of men through church, as they grace the congregation with their gift of song each and every Saturday evening during our 5:30PM mass.

During a conversation with one of the Ugandan men, he inquired about the possibility of me finding him a used laptop computer. I told him that would be very difficult given our current location, but in the meantime he should save his money and that I would keep my eyes open. As fate would have it, less than a week after this conversation with my friend Thomas "The Bell Ringer" (his duties at mass), I was contacted by a friend back in Portland, Indiana who was looking for a place to send four used laptop computers. As you might imagine, I was just a bit excited by this proposition and immediately responded that I had just the place for her computers.

It appears that the John Jay Center in Portland was looking to upgrade their computer systems, fortunately for my friends here they were thoughtful enough to seek a new home for their old computers rather than scrap them as so many of us might have done. After a few days of coordination with the folks back in Indiana, four laptops made the two week journey over here to Afghanistan.

As I brought the men in to our office to present them with their new computers, they didn't have the slightest idea as to why they had been summoned to the ADT compound. In their typical innocence, even after sitting down at each of the computers we had laid out for them, they still didn't assume that the computers were theirs for the taking. As we informed them that the computers had been sent from Indiana all the way over here for them, instant shouts of joy ensued. The picture below shows their reaction much better than any words could describe...

Genuine Gratitude - the group of Ugandan men's reaction upon hearing that the computers were theirs to keep


  1. What I love even more than the Ugandans happiness, is how happy you look! Can't wait til your back on U.S. soil :)