Crocker Middle School students packed up donated items to send to troops in Afghanistan. (Courtesy LeAnn Thornton)

Peninsula students give back to the troops

US Army personnel recently visited Crocker Middle School in Hillsborough, where students filled their Humvee with care packages bound for troops in Afghanistan.

The event capped what has become an annual tradition at the school, where kids reach out to their community, soliciting donations of food, personal care products, holiday decorations, and other items intended to provide soldiers overseas with the comforts of home.

Hillsborough adopted the Army’s 1st Brigade combat team, 101st Airborne Division (air assault) in 2007. Crocker Middle School began collaborating with the city and the Hillsborough Police Department on the Adopt-A-Unit campaign in 2012, when coordinator LeAnn Thornton contacted teacher Audrey Fairchild, asking if her students would sign a holiday banner for deployed troops. The students responded by asking what other forms of support they could provide.

This year, the unit from 101st Airborne is back home, so the school adopted the Kentucky Army National Guard’s 1163rd Area Support Medical Company, a team of reservists whose ranks include a police officer and a commercial airline pilot, along with doctors, nurses, and EMT firefighters.

The 1163rd ASMC is attached to an Army combat hospital in Afghanistan, where they provide emergency medical services, both to base personnel and individuals airlifted in from other locations.

The soldiers say the care packages have a positive impact on troop morale by uplifting the spirits of those serving abroad.

Army recruiter Staff Sgt. John Kaleski and reservist Sgt. Rick Nelson accompanied the Humvee at Crocker. Kaleski enjoyed talking with the students about everything from “Star Wars” to their favorite football and soccer teams. He was deployed in Afghanistan in 2003 and Iraq in
2004.

“We had all the local kids talking like Snoop Dogg,” Kaleski laughed.

According to Thornton, the care packages have played a role in establishing good will with Afghan children. Last year, Crocker students collected about 100 pounds of
Halloween candy, which they included in the care packages. This year, the students collected three times that amount.

When troops shared the candy with Afghani kids, the children responded by showing them where hidden explosives were located. “The Halloween candy literally saved lives,” Thornton said.

Kaleski noted the Army has base stores where deployed troops can acquire life’s necessities, but the inventory rarely changes. Part of a care packages’ magic is it might contain specific brands that remind a soldier of home. “When my sister was sending me a care package, all I wanted was Chef Boyardee Beefaroni,” Kaleski said.

Sentiments like Kaleski’s are part of Crocker student Jocelyn Murphy’s motivation for participating in the care package campaign.

“As they’re putting their lives on the line, they deserve something they actually recognize from home,” Murphy said.

Fellow student Christopher Mahoney also talked about the life-and-death stakes deployed soldiers might face.

“I think it’s good to support troops because they’re risking their lives,” Mahoney said, “They enlisted, and that’s very selfless.”

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