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America Supports You: Program Uses New Care Package Concept

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 5, 2005 – The Internet is chock-full of Web sites for groups that send care packages to deployed troops. But one organization, Operation Interdependence, has a unique twist: Its focus is on getting care packages to troops on the front lines without burdening the military logistics system.

Retired Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer Albert Renteria founded Operation Interdependence to rally community support for the military and to express that support in way that didn't bog down the military supply train.

He'd seen that happen firsthand during the Gulf War, and remembers the difficulty of getting mountains of packages to the front lines, and the danger of doing so put on the troops involved. He said he was certain the American public had no idea that they had inadvertently hampered the very effort they had hoped to support through their outpouring of generosity.

As a result, Renteria came up with a concept called civilian rations, or "c- rats," that he said "maximize our military's efforts by minimizing their delivery and handling tasks."

Each 30-pound box sent by Operation Interdependence includes c-rats for 50 troops. Renteria said that means each 100 boxes sent and delivered through the program reach 5,000 rather than just 100 troops. During 2004 alone, Operation Interdependence delivered 500,000 care packages.

Packets contain a variety of treats: hygiene items, packaged snacks and most importantly, a personal letter expressing appreciation and support, he said.

Renteria said Operation Interdependence's goal is not to compete with "mom" or the military exchange system in getting items to the troops. It's to get Americans involved in showing support in whatever way they can, including volunteering their time to collect, pack and ship the boxes. He said it's also to get young people involved in civic service.

Later this month, the Blackwell International Academy of Performing Arts will honor Operation Interdependence at its third annual Omni Youth Music Awards in Sherman Oaks, Calif. Five students involved in the program, each escorted by a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, will represent the organization as they accept the Dianne Wall-Wilson Troop Service Award at the Jan. 16 ceremony.

Also in the works for Operation Interdependence is a "15 Minutes of Giving" campaign, to be conducted in partnership with the Academy of Country Music. Renteria said the campaign will encourage every American to donate just 15 minutes to write a letter, collect items to pack or make a donation possible for troops deployed all over the world.

A "15 Minutes of Giving" tour will follow the National Hot Rod Association drag racing schedule, and will host events in each city to promote participation in Operation Interdependence, he said.

"The goal is to reach every American," Renteria said. "All we ask of people is 15 minutes. But once they do that and see how good it feels, they always want to give more."

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