America Supports You: Command Makes Difference With Victory Boxes
By Ed White
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2008 An Air Force Space Command major and two staff sergeants stationed at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., are proving that just three servicemembers can affect people halfway around the world.
Air Force Maj. Jason Gross (third from left) and a security detail prepare to deliver Victory Boxes to a local school in Iraq. Defense Department photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Maj. Jason Gross and Staff Sgts. Rosalia and Billie Burgan are making a huge difference in the lives of Iraqi and Afghan families through the Texas-based Victory Boxes project. The program encourages Americans to send care packages to servicemembers in Iraq and Afghanistan who have volunteered to distribute the contents to local citizens.
“Along with setting up displays where people can come and pick up boxes, we also attend group meetings such as the newcomer's group at the Broadmoor Hotel,” said Rosalia. “We brief the members about the program and give out boxes."
Local community organizations get involved, as well, she said. "The Pikes Peak Library staff supported the program," she said. "They gathered school supplies, shoes and clothes."
An e-mail from a soldier who got his unit involved in the project perhaps provides the best answer as to why these three airmen got involved in this program.
"I explained the program to my soldiers, and they understood as well as I do that amidst all this turmoil, there are still good, kind people who have not been tarnished by this war," the soldier said in his e-mail. "Your ‘e-boxes’ have stretched out far beyond what I think you intended them to.
“You’ve shown hardened soldiers that war is not all about destruction, but also rebuilding; not just about tearing down an enemy but also giving hope to the future generations,” he added. “Above all, you've allowed us to keep our humanity, which is something that is easily lost here.”
Gross has seen both sides of this effort. He became a volunteer while in Iraq, receiving some of the packages and distributing them to local communities. The reactions of the Iraqis inspired him to want to do more.
"I really enjoyed putting a smile on the faces of the children," he said. "It made me homesick for my own family, but in a good way -- reminding me of the important things in life."
Upon his return, he contacted Mary Margaret Halleck, the founder of the Victory Boxes program, and began working closely with her to get more people from the command and the local area involved.
"This effort is such a worthwhile thing," he said. "You can't believe the look on people's faces when they get something that is going to make their life a little bit better. This is the other side of the battle, winning the hearts and minds of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan."
The in-theater volunteers are not all front-line troops, however. They are chaplains, medical personnel, civil affairs and supply folks. People at all levels and in all services are getting involved.
The Victory Boxes program started because Halleck's stepson was deployed to the war zone, and, in his communications to her, he described the true poverty he saw. She put together some care packages for him to distribute and sent them off. Her stepson came home, but she realized the need was still there, and it inspired her to start Victory Boxes in mid-2005.
That action inspired others like the airmen serving in Colorado who have proven that person-to-person contact counts in the rebuilding efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan
Victory Boxes is a supporter of "America Supports You," a Defense Department program connecting citizens and companies with servicemembers and their families serving overseas.
(Ed White works at Air Force Space Command Public Affairs.)