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Students send care packages to Iraq

Justin Tardiff | Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students, many of whom know what it feels like to be far from home, are joining together to send a little piece of home to troops fighting overseas this holiday season.Groups on both campuses are participating in care package drives this month, collecting small items to ship to Notre Dame graduates currently serving in the Middle East.The Army ROTC service organization Alliance To Lead And Serve (ATLAS) began organizing their drive earlier this year. Junior Maggie Lero, an Army ROTC Cadet, is in charge of the project.”We focus on patriotic activities and supporting our troops and community events,” Lero said, adding that Notre Dame graduates’ platoons will receive most of the care packages. “We decided for the Christmas season to send care packages to the troops.”The care packages will consist of items Lero found listed from an online soldier wish list – ranging from necessities like soap, shampoo and toothbrushes to stocking stuffers like playing cards and Notre Dame memorabilia. Lero said cadets will be approaching their residence halls to contribute to the project by writing letters, and that anyone who would like to participate should contact their dorm service commissioners.Also getting involved with the ROTC project are the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College Republicans and Democrats. The two groups have initiated a friendly competition to get members into the giving spirit, competing to see which group can collect the most items to send.Saint Mary’s College Democrats president Sarah Staley says her favorite part of the project is the inclusion of the children the troops are helping to protect.”ROTC also asked us to get together some things for the kids,” Staley said. “Beanie Babies [are] something small that can be shipped over there that the soldiers can carry around to hand to the kids.”Collection for the ROTC drive items begins Nov. 29 and ends on the last day of classes.The Notre Dame Accounting Association will be collecting items for their own care package drive from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day this week through Friday. Project chair Jennifer Burns, a senior, suggests students and faculty donate “little everyday items that might feel like luxuries” to soldiers, such as magazines, CDs and toiletries.”We are also sending letters,” she said. “If you don’t have any money, just writing a letter or a little Christmas note or a note of thanks would be appreciated.”This is the second annual NDAA Christmas care package drive for the troops. Last year’s drive was a success, shipping 15 boxes containing more than 300 pounds of items to Iraq, Kuwait, and even a Navy ship in the middle of the Persian Gulf, Burns said. The organization received many letters of thanks from Notre Dame friends and family who appreciated getting the packages.One recipient was Christopher Welch, a 2000 graduate who was stationed at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. Now a student in Notre Dame’s MBA program, he was so impressed by the Christmas shipments that he quickly became involved with the care package drive upon his return to campus.”I was just floored by the support from the students,” Welch said. “The guys in my tent were amazed that students I didn’t know were sending packages. I told them it’s hard to believe, but that’s how Notre Dame is.”The students heading this year’s drives agreed with Welch that showing support for the troops is especially important during the holiday season.”Obviously it’s a really hard position to be in when you’re in the military and serving overseas,” Burns said. “There are times like Thanksgiving and Christmas when you really just want to celebrate with your family. We want to let them know that they still have a family over here that still cares about and appreciates them.”Lero said she hopes the packages boost the morale of the soldiers currently stationed overseas, especially those who have recently had their tours of duty extended. “I think that we’re all very aware of the ROTC presence on campus, but we don’t really see how that connects with the real world after graduation, while graduates are serving overseas. [The project] helps us to remember them during the Christmas season when they won’t be home,” she said.Welch assured the campus community that their efforts will not only be appreciated, but will lift each soldier’s holiday spirits.”There were several other Notre Dame guys who were stationed with me. We were thrilled and amazed and very humbled,” he said. “Just the support we got was really amazing. … Otherwise, Christmas would have been just another day in the desert.”