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Retiree Aids Soldiers With 'Kool' Drink While Deployed

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2004 – Army Reserve Sgt. Terri Doughty made an important discovery while stationed for 12 months in Kuwait during Operation Iraqi Freedom: Kool-Aid and hot water taste pretty good together.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Ralph Hansen, an Air Force retiree now working for U.S. Strategic Command's Combat Support Directorate at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., prepares to ship a package containing Kool-Aid and other items to troops in the Middle East. When Hansen learned that soldiers there were requesting the flavored drink mix, he started Operation Kool-Aid, sending cases of the drink mix to soldiers there. Photo by Seaman Ted Green, USN
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Doughty, an administrative clerk for the 444th Personnel Services Battalion, said soldiers in her unit were desperate for anything that would make their bottled drinking water -- scorched by the 107-degree desert temperatures -- bearable.

"We were in the desert," she said. "We didn't have ice, we didn't have refrigeration, and the water was so hot, you couldn't drink the stuff. But we'd mix it with Kool-Aid, and at least it was palatable."

That's when she met Ralph Hansen, a retired Air Force technical sergeant, who now works for the U.S. Strategic Command's Combat Support Directorate at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.

After reading a message Doughty posted on a Web site thanking a friend for sending a canister of Kool-Aid, Hansen decided to help out too. He e-mailed Doughty asking what to send. She replied, "Send a canister of Kool-Aid."

That wasn't enough, however; he wanted to do more.

Hansen said he posted in the Web site's forum that others "over in harm's way" needed help. He asked anyone responding to send Kool-Aid among a short list of other necessities the soldiers requested. Within hours, more than 50 people responded to help, he said.

In the meantime, Hansen went to the commissary, gathered up as many flavors of the powered drink mix as he could find, and shipped an entire case to Doughty and her unit. "Operation Kool-Aid" had begun.

Over the next few months of the campaign, hundreds of boxes would arrive, and Hansen said he was joined by hundreds of people who sent in everything from Kool-Aid to beef jerky to coffee, books and games.

Doughty said that when she opened her first box, she was thrilled at what she found. "I couldn't believe that this person whom I really didn't know went out of their way to me a case of Kool-Aid," she said. "He was like, 'My hero.'"

She said each time a package from Operation Kool-Aid arrived, it was like "Christmas in July."

"It was just like a little piece of home was coming to us in these boxes," she explained. "It was big morale booster, and gave you that much more motivation. It's like, 'I'm not out here forgotten.'"

She noted that one lady in Nebraska and a man from Michigan even sent homemade fudge.

"Homemade fudge is terrific any time, but to get it so far away from home is awesome," she said. "For someone to take the time to make homemade fudge for us, how do you thank somebody like that?"

Doughty said that soon there were so many boxes of goods coming in that she started distributing the surplus to other units deploying to the theater, a task that was made easy because she worked in the detachment's post office.

Hansen pointed out that he never expected Operation Kool Aid to grow as it has and to draw so much attention.

He said that since the operation started a year ago, he estimates more than 14,000 pounds of goods have been shipped to servicemembers in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, Hansen, who served in the desert, said he knows exactly what the soldiers in the Middle East are going through. "I've been there," he said. "The loneliness and isolation, that's why it's important that we let them know they are not forgotten."

Hansen said deployed servicemembers "don't realize how many people are thinking about them, and that millions of people are supporting them."

"They need to know we are here. And if there is something you need, let us know." he continued. "Don't ever let it get cross your mind that we are not supporting you or thinking about you, because we are."

After a year of working together, Hansen and Doughty finally met at a gathering near Atlanta. Hanson said he "broke down in tears."

"We were both hugging and crying," he said. "It was super to finally get to meet her in person, and to find out how really appreciative she was for everything we sent."

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