New Bruins Send Care Packages to U.S. Troops Overseas

Incoming students make care packages for service members during orientation

By Sarah Rogozen

UCLA Daily Bruin; Aug. 23, 2010 at 1:02 a.m.

When Keenan Jones wants to catch up with his stepfather, he tries to avoid video conferences. There’s a three-second delay in his stepfather’s Internet connection, and the video chat must be arranged months in advance.

Jones’ stepfather is in the U.S. Army, doing military intelligence work in Afghanistan in his sixth long-term deployment.

“I miss him a lot, but it’s gotten to the point where me and my mom can manage,” said Jones, a first-year undeclared engineering student. “It’s just a system we’re in.”

First-year undeclared life science students Aubrey Schachter, left, and Camille Pinpin write letters for U.S. troops.

Jones is one of about 5,000 incoming first-years who are preparing care packages this summer for troops overseas.

During the last day of each orientation session, first-years listen to speeches by ROTC personnel and write letters to soldiers.

“I essentially said (in my letter) that I was a military brat. I understand what you guys (U.S. service members) are going through,” Jones said.

After the students finish writing, they join an assembly line, packing an Associated Students UCLA shopping bag with their letter, an iTunes gift card, UCLA apparel and a note asking the recipient to e-mail the Volunteer Center a picture of the service member wearing his or her new clothes.

The gifts were donated by Nacional Records and Campus Drive, a company that ASUCLA licenses to make clothing, said David Bloome, campaign director at the UCLA Volunteer Center.

“I was just thunderstruck, because it was like hitting a gold mine just when we needed it,” he said, referring to the more than-$100,000 clothing donation.

The new service project is sponsored by UCLA New Student and Transition Programs, the Volunteer Center and ROTC.

Adding outside help is Operation Gratitude, a nonprofit organization that aims to lift the morale of U.S. service members stationed abroad.

This is the first time Operation Gratitude has partnered with a university, Bloome said.

Incoming first-year chemistry student Lucy Duong said she was grateful to the military.

“I hope that whatever I’m doing with my major, I can help my community, too, but it’s never going to compare to (the armed forces) helping a whole country,” Duong said.

ROTC instructor Jason Davenport said that the new first-years have much in common with the soldiers who will receive their letters.

“A lot of the people (students are) writing to are in the same shoes – 18, 19 (years old) – maybe away from home for the first time,” Davenport said.

Students can choose to tell the service member their name and e-mail address if they want to keep corresponding.

Operation Gratitude asked letter-writers to maintain a positive, motivational tone and not to ask service members about death or killing. Bloome told students to keep their letters apolitical.

“We’re not trying to make any statements about war, or public policy, what’s right or wrong,” he told students before they began writing. “We’re simply reaching out.”

But as Jones stood in a crowd of students who’d completed their packages, America’s political choices were on his mind. He said he believes that service members such as his stepfather have an important peacekeeping role.

“The people in the military perform one of the most important jobs in the country, if not the world,” he said.

“They do it with pure intentions.”

Chancellor Gene Block joins Bruin freshmen in writing letters to the troops while Captain Claudia Denton, USAF looks on

ROTC Faculty Speak at Bruin Orientation and Display Operation Gratitude Care Package. From left to right: Major John Howard, First Lieutenant Jared Grady, Lieutenant Jason Davenport, LTC Phelps, CPT Denton and Ensign Doug Kettler

About Operation Gratitude

Operation Gratitude annually sends 200,000+ care packages to Veterans, First Responders, New Recruits, Wounded Heroes, their Care Givers, and to individually named U.S. service members deployed overseas and their families waiting at home. Each package is filled with food, entertainment, hygiene and hand-made items, as well as personal letters of support. Our mission is to lift the spirits and meet the evolving needs of the Military and First Responder communities, and provide volunteer opportunities for civilians anywhere in America to express their appreciation to all who serve our nation. Each package contains donated product valued between $45 and $100 and costs our organization $15 to assemble and ship. Since its inception in 2003, Operation Gratitude volunteers have shipped more than 1.6 Million Care Packages.
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