One More Gift For Your List; Make A Service Member’s Holiday Season

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The employees of ImpactWeather and Universal Weather and Aviation just mailed 101 care packages to the troops of the 515th Engineer Company — the 515th Sappers.  That should work out to one care package for each sapper, plus a few for a rainy day. But I’m sure your first question is the same as mine: What’s a sapper?

You can follow the 515th on Facebook (that's where I snagged this image).

From Wikipedia, here’s the definition of a sapper: a combatant soldier who performs a wide variety of combat engineering duties, typically including, but not limited to, bridge-building, laying or clearing minefields, demolitions, field defenses, general construction and building, as well as road and airfield construction and repair. They are also trained to serve as infantry personnel when needed in both defensive and offensive operations and are fully involved in modern counter-insurgency operations. A sapper’s tasks have, throughout history, including modern day counter-insurgency operations, been devoted to the mission-critical tasks involving facilitating movement and logistics of allied forces and impeding those of enemies. Wikipedia goes on to say the sappers have fought in every war in American history.

Impressive stuff, these sappers. Hard workers, always in the thick of it, a rich military history; hungry, no doubt. And, as it turns out — family.

A sapper in World War II rigs an explosive charge. Image: Wikipedia

ImpactWeather’s parent company, Universal Weather and Aviation, has a long history of supporting our young troops away from home. I joined the company in 1988 and two years later was involved in sending supplies to troops in the first Gulf War. In 2003, Universal’s employees supported additional shipments to our overseas troops in the Iraq War (a musician friend of mine had just released his debut album and he contributed two cases of his CDs — rock ‘n’ roll is almost as important as food when fighting away from home!).  Since 2005, the two companies have been very involved with the wounded veterans group, Impact A Hero — fund raisers, 5K runs and more — even creating Jets for Vets, a program designed to encourage corporate jet owners to donate their jets to help transport wounded veterans. Last month, when the opportunity to contribute to a care package program arose, we didn’t ask why we said, “Sir! Yes, Sir!”

Members of the 515th in Afghanistan. Photo: Unknown

But why the 515th? The son-in-law of Tish Hughes, Manager of Universal’s Client Data Management, is in the 515th. Two months ago he asked if his wife and Tish would re-direct his care package(s) to a single soldier from Haiti who had not received anything from home. Care package contents are always shared, but there’s nothing like getting a box with your own name on it. Tish took on the “directive” from her son-in-law, then took the situation to Marjorie Evans, Vice Chairman of the Board at Universal. What started out as one box to one soldier has turned into 101 boxes — enough to “adopt” the entire 515th.

The boxes were stuffed last week and shipped this past Monday — our self-imposed deadline of Veteran’s Day. The contents didn’t vary too much from box to box, though I think one or two special items sneaked their way past the careful eye of the program administrator. Each box contained powdered Gatorade and Crystal Light, Oreos, Ritz Crackers, beef jerky, trail mix, a variety of candy, a couple of other things and even a crossword (or similar) book made it into the boxes. We hope the packages arrive in good shape, and as long as they’re not shoved out the back of a C-130 and dropped by parachute, the cookies and crackers should not arrive as crumbs or dust!

Care packages pose with members of Universal's Database Management department: Stacy Burkhart, Michelle Hudson, Melinda Bush, Isabel Orellana. Photo: Tish Hughes

I’m a veteran (USAF, 1979-1988) but was never on the receiving end of such a box. That’s fine, by the way — I was never shipped out of country and things from back home were never far away. But the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s were a different time for the men and women of the U.S. Armed Services. I think at best the general public treated our military with apathy and, at worst outright disrespect. I couldn’t be happier that things have turned around so much. With rare exception, our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, husbands and wives in the military are respected at the least and, more often than not, bestowed hero status once returned home.

They don't deliver care packages to the troops like this, do they? Photo: USAF

Do these care packages really help? It’s too early to know yet how are boxes will be received, but we can guess! What about you? Want to send your own box? Look up U.S. Troop Care Package and learn how to join in. OpGratitude is another organization sending care packages and, per their web site, they’ve sent more than 700,000 packages to date. Another group,, is also making it easy for you to get involved.

The 515th is based at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. They deployed in March, 2011 and are expected to return home in April, 2012. Since their deployment, the 515th has lost three of its members to battle and two have been seriously injured.

Tish’s grandson Karson, pictured with Mom, is almost the right size to ship to his dad (that’s one cute kid!). Photo: Tish Hughes

A few of the ImpactWeather staff show some of the care packages destined for the 515th Sapper Company in Afghanistan. Photo: ImpactWeather

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