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SOS: Soldiers need personal necessities

Imagine living in a foreign country where you are unable to get personal necessities. Many American service men and women are experiencing just that overseas, and American citizens are trying to help the situation through In the offices of EW Systems, a small defense contractor at Meadowlake Airport, there is a room that has been turned into a commissary of sorts full of shampoo, crayons, DVDs, and numerous other items, all categorically arranged.It began in July, when Jamie Johnston received a letter from her sister, Amy Olmsted, who lives in Basalt, Colo. Olmsted had forwarded a letter from a soldier in Iraq, Sergeant First Class Kat Finnie. “There are no hair bands available here to buy and I only brought out three and they are gone,” Finnie said in her letter. “I’ve been tying my hair with string and wire. That was all I could find so … anyway … thank you so much.”Olmsted had previously heard about and sent a package, part of which found its way to Finnie. Olmsted was so touched by Finnie’s letter that she sent it to Johnston, who logged on to the Web site and was amazed at the everyday items that deployed American soldiers lack. Johnston decided to get involved.Since July, Gene and Jamie Johnston, with help from employees of EW Systems and others, have sent nearly 100 boxes to soldiers overseas. The boxes are filled with everything from toothpaste to freezer pops, many of the things soldiers have requested on the Web site.www.AnySoldier.comAccording to, an army infantry soldier who wanted to help his unit started the Web site in August 2003. In 2004, the site was expanded to include any American service member or servicewoman in harm’s way. Service members log on to the Web site and post their needs or wants. Many times, the request is as simple as a bar of soap or a letter from anyone back home.On the home front, people like Olmsted and Johnston log on, read the requests and help where they can. The site instructs the visitors on what to send, how to package the items and where to send them. The donor sends the package directly to a named service member; there is a second line in the address that states “or any soldier,” which allows the unit to give the package to another service member, if the named person has been transferred to another location or can’t be found. The Web site also allows donors who want to contribute financially, but would like someone else to package and send.Get involvedJohnston encourages anyone to log on and help out. She said by logging on to and reading through the requests, most people will find someone they can relate to, someone for whom they can say, “That one’s mine.””The one that got me, the first one that I opened up, was a guy who said, “All I want is a bar of Irish Spring soap,” Johnston said. “It’s like … I’ve got one of those! I can do that!”The Web site gives instructions on what paperwork needs to be included and what items cannot be sent. For example, no pork products or alcoholic beverages can be sent to Islamic countries. Other things could be excluded for safety reasons, such as aerosol cans and glass containers.Johnston is willing to accept donations of items or cash, and she will do the packaging and sending. She also is available to answer questions from those interested in participating. She said there are some “tricks of the trade” that are helpful to know. Experience has taught Johnston how to safeguard the contents of boxes against contamination and damage and ways to lessen the chance of someone stealing the boxes as they pass through foreign ports.Johnston is grateful to Joel and Moira Therault, owners of Pack, Ship & More, for not only donating to the cause, but also for educating her regarding the U.S. Post Office’s priority mail flat-rate box. Postage for these boxes is $7.70 regardless of weight or domestic destination. You can purchase boxes from Pack, Ship & More or through the postal service Web site at This makes group or corporate sponsorship particularly easy. For example, Experimental Aircraft Association sponsored 100 boxes for Johnston to send.Johnston also suggests that before taking a large number of boxes to a small post office, such as Peyton or the Falcon substation, call first to make sure they have the manpower on duty to handle it.The payoffThe real payoff, said Johnston, aside from the warm feeling you get, is the occasional response from the military showing that you really are making a difference. By reading between the lines of her request, Johnston picked up that one soldier, Kimberly Watts, was homesick for Pennsylvania. Using the Internet, Johnston sent Watts Sturgis pretzels and cans of birch beer (similar to root beer), both staples of Pennsylvanians. Johnston said Watts was incredulous that someone would do that for her.A letter to Johnston from serviceman Donald R. Parment, dated Aug. 26: “Receiving letters and packages from caring and patriotic Americans back home really gives me a sense of pride. It reminds me why I am over here. To receive letters, pictures, and packages from total strangers shows me how much the people back home really do care and support us.”

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