Washington USO Packs Millionth Care Package

By Carmen L. Burgess
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 11, 2006 - Once a month, volunteers gather in a hidden-away United Service Organizations warehouse on Fort Belvoir, Va., for a very important mission: stuffing care packages for troops overseas.

Today, the group of 150 volunteers hit a very important mark - packing its millionth care package since the start of Operation USO Care Package in 2001.

The USO of Metropolitan Washington started the program to distribute tokens of appreciation to deploying servicemembers and troops arriving and departing on rest and recuperation flights. The USO is a member of American Supports You, a Defense Department program that showcases support from the American people and the corporate sector for the nation's men and women in uniform.

More than 10,000 packages were packed today, among them the millionth one, which is expected to be distributed at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in December. Actors Gary Sinise, well known for his role as Lt. Dan in the movie "Forrest Gump" and as the star of the CBS series "CSI: Miami," and Karri Turner, known for her role at Lt. Harriet Sims on "JAG," helped in stuffing care packages.

For volunteer and recipient Al Baker, the program has made a world of difference. Baker is a retired Army staff sergeant and first received a care package while deployed as part of Operation Desert Shield and later received one when deployed as a contractor for Lockheed Martin.

"We were out there ahead of supplies and didn't have the conveniences of home," he said. "When we got the care packages from the USO it was like Christmas. I know first-hand that it makes a huge difference to our troops."

Americans can show their support for the troops by sponsoring a care package with a $25 donation. The retail value of the package is $50 to $75, and it contains items such as toiletries, snacks, lip balm, sunscreen, phone cards and personal notes of thanks.

"It's important to show troops that the American public cares about them and thinks about them," said Elaine Rogers, president of USO of Metropolitan Washington.

For people like Sally Stewart, the volunteering takes on a more personal nature; her son is a Marine whose California-based unit is deployed in Iraq. She has been volunteering for the USO for more than a year. "From what my son has told me, something that is such a small token has a huge impact on them. Can you imagine only getting to take a shower twice a month? When they get back to camp from a long patrol and have a USO package waiting for them, it makes such a difference."

"Reaching this milestone is a significant event for the USO," said USO president and chief executive officer Edward Powell. "We thank the American public for their support in helping us make a difference in the lives of our men and women in uniform."

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