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USO, Military Families Show Troops Support with Care Packages

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

FORT BELVOIR, Va., April 9, 2009 – While many children are spending their spring break away from the schoolhouse on the couch watching television or playing video games, some spent part of their week off this year volunteering and giving back to their military community.

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Rebecca Stoffer, right, places a USO care package into a shipping box for deployed troops during a care package party April 9, 2009, at Fort Belvoir, Va. Stoffer and her two children were among 70 volunteers, including more than 50 children ages 3 to 17, who spent the day filling care packages with toiletries and snacks for deployed troops. DoD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
  

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More than 50 kids between the ages of 3 and 17 and about 20 adults spent the day today with the USO at Fort Belvoir, Va., putting together care packages for deployed military members.

“I’m so excited to be a part of this,” said Caroline Daniels, an Army wife on Fort Belvoir who participated in her first care package operation today with her four children. “It’s great for the kids to learn about what they can give and what they can do to support deployed soldiers. I think it’s just a great way for us to say thank you and to help.”

Daniels said her has been given an extraordinary amount of support over the past 20 years in the Army. Her husband, Army Sgt. 1st Class Daryl Daniels, is a paralegal here who deployed for the first time in support of Operation Desert Storm.

“The military really does a great job of bringing families closer together,” she said. “USO is awesome, and it does so much for the families -- not just the deployed soldiers, but for the families that are left behind.”

The USO of Metropolitan Washington and the Defense Department’s Military Health System sponsored the event in celebration of the Month of the Military Child. And although the USO hosts such “care package parties” twice each month here, today was the first time children under the age of 12 have participated, Ron Wise, director of the USO Care Package Program, said.

“Today we are focusing on the military child, and they are sometimes forgotten during the time of war that we’re in,” Wise said. “What we want to do is give them an opportunity to come and give back to the troops and have a little fun in the process.”

Normally, the care package parties are off-limits to children under 12. Wise explained that on average, a care package party will stuff anywhere from 10,000 to 12,000 packages. The constant hours of can be too intense for young children, and warehouse labor with forklifts and other equipment could be dangerous for them, he said.

“For young children, it’s kind of hard to be moving around and standing for a long period of time,” he said. “It can actually be really dangerous, and it took a lot of signatures and approvals in order to get this accomplished.”

When the day started, the goal was to put together 500 care packages. But when the care package party ended, nearly 3,000 packages filled with toiletries, snacks and “thank you” cards were boxed up and ready to ship overseas, Wise said.

“The children are absolutely beautiful and motivated, dancing and singing,” he said. “We’re having a great time doing this.”

Since the program started in 2003, the USO has shipped more than 1.5 million care packages to deployed troops serving all over the world, Wise said. Although inviting young children to participate won’t happen very often, he added, it’s definitely an event he and the USO would like to do again.

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Related Sites:
USO Care Package Program
USO of Metropolitan Washington
Military Health Affairs

Click photo for screen-resolution imageChris Belcher, 17, writes a message to deployed troops on a USO poster during a care package party April 9, 2009, at Fort Belvoir, Va. Belcher's uncle is a soldier deployed to Iraq. DoD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageVolunteers stuff USO care packages for deployed troops during a care package party April 9, 2009, at Fort Belvoir, Va. DoD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageD'Andre Daniels, 10, places a USO care package into a shipping box for deployed troops April 9, 2009, at Fort Belvoir, Va. Daniels, his mother, older brother and two younger sisters volunteered part of their spring break to show their support for the military. His father is an Army paralegal stationed at Fort Belvoir. DoD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageVolunteers pose for a group photo in front of a USO sign for deployed troops during a care package operation April 9, 2009, at Fort Belvoir, Va. DoD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDaliah Daniels, 7, helps put together a USO care package into a shipping box for deployed troops April 9, 2009, at Fort Belvoir, Va. Daniels, her mother, two older brothers and younger sister volunteered part of their spring break to show their support for the military. Her father is an Army paralegal stationed at Fort Belvoir. DoD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden  
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