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Archive for Saturday, December 27, 2008

Gift-giver, adopted troops boost each other’s spirits

Lawrence resident Vicki Brown is pictured with several of the photographs and post cards she has received from soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2003 Brown has sent over 100 care boxes to soldiers with items ranging from socks to squirt guns.

Lawrence resident Vicki Brown is pictured with several of the photographs and post cards she has received from soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2003 Brown has sent over 100 care boxes to soldiers with items ranging from socks to squirt guns.

December 27, 2008

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Soldiers' Santa: Lawrence woman keeps giving to troops

A Lawrence woman has helped raise the spirit of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for five years. Enlarge video

How to adopt

If you want to connect with a military member in Iraq or Afghanistan, Vicki Brown recommends using “adopt-a-soldier” Web sites. She suggests treatsfortroops.com, operationmilitarypride.org, soldiersangels.org and adoptatroop.net. The sites will either connect you to an individual military member or a sergeant who has a list of items his troops need. The requests can range from care packages to simple notes of encouragement.

When Vicki Brown started shipping care packages to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, she never expected to get so much in return.

Five years and countless postmarked boxes later, Brown has piles of thank-you notes, Christmas cards, photos, shawls, an American flag and even a sonogram.

“It’s, ‘Oh thank you, thank you for taking the time out of your busy day,’ and I am thinking, my busy day?” Brown said.

Brown, a 59-year-old Texas native who moved to Lawrence in 1986 when her husband, Frank, took a position with Kansas University’s computer science department, was at first surprised by the response to her shipments.

“And then I realized their mamas raised them right,” she said.

Her shipping campaign started in 2003 when her nephew, a member of the Green Berets, said how sad it was that the patriotism that swelled in the days after 9/11 had dissipated.

His comments prompted Brown to search online military forums to find ways to boost morale.

“I adopted my first Marine. It was great. And then, I adopted another. And by and by, I get a postcard from Iraq. And I thought, oh my gosh. It was just so thrilling,” Brown said.

Brown has sent everything from the whimsical (water squirt guns and bubbles) to the practical (foot powders and Imodium). She has shipped off socks, jerky, high-protein bars and a shooter’s glove with a special covering for the trigger finger.

“You have to think, ‘what would I need if I were in the desert?’” she said.

To one wounded man, Brown sent a coin and necklace with the Marine insignia on it. He wasn’t able to write back, but his mother did.

“It will be cherished forever. Thank you for thinking of my son. He will make a slow recovery, but we are hoping for the best,” Brown read from the Marine mom’s letter. “Freedom doesn’t come cheap, and he felt it was an honor to protect our country. He still does.”

Brown sends packages to those whose family members she has met online at military forums or through the Adopt-A-Soldier Web site. She sends 10 to 40 packages a month and estimates she has spent $10,000 since 2003.

“It’s worth every penny,” she said.

Hundreds in the military have received Brown’s care packages. Some are retired Marines who have re-enlisted. Others are fresh-faced 20-somethings whose youth she marvels at.

Brown says she has “lots and lots of children.” Those she knows best, she claims as her own, calling them my gunny sergeant, my adopted pilot or my corpsman.

They send her pictures posing with her care packages, shaking hands with politicians or standing in front of armored tanks and helicopters. She has photos of their families and injuries. Along with thank-yous, they share stories of close calls and what conditions are like away from home.

While Brown has corresponded for years, she’s never met any of her recipients in person. But so far, all of her “adopted” military members have made it home.

“It’s a real thrill to know all these people,” she said.

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