More than 2,413,000 Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 10 years. And if it were up to Malibu resident Cindy Linke, every one of them would have received one of the care packages her organization, Operation Interdependence, prepares once a year.
On Tuesday last week, the Point Dume Clubhouse witnessed a giant party of several dozen busy volunteers sorting, packing and organizing care packages for U.S. soldiers serving on the front line overseas and on the guided missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones. For years, Linke has been helming this effort, preparing some 2,500 “goodie bags” for platoons of active-duty soldiers each year.
Ruth Loeb, one of Linke’s partners, has been helping organize the event for years. Her husband was a naval officer during the Vietnam War and she said she continues this effort because of her respect for the troops.
“What they love about receiving these packages is that it’s a little bit of home for them,” Loeb said.
Susanne Reyto, the president of Malibu/Bel-Air Republican Women Federated, brings along a contingent to pack for the troops each year. Her husband also served in Vietnam and Reyto is a firm supporter of the military.
“They fight for our freedom,” Reyto said. “This is the least we can do to thank them and remind them that everyone here is waiting for them to come home safely.”
The packing is organized into a smooth, streamlined operation. The first step is a quart-size Ziploc bag into which goes the first item – a personal note written and decorated by a student or parent at Webster Elementary.
“Come visit California. You deserve some R & R,” said one. “If you can make it to Malibu, you’ve got a free surfing lesson. Thank you for all you do,” said another. One note in 1st-grader handwriting simply said, “So proud.”
The rest of the bag is filled with items that are small, but dear to the hearts of weary soldiers bunking in a foreign and dangerous land: socks, gummy bears, protein bars, packages of instant oatmeal and hot chocolate, UNO card games, hard candies, dental floss, beef jerky and, for the female soldiers, small samples of nail polish.
“Twenty-five percent of the soldiers on the John Paul Jones are women,” Linke said. “They like to paint their toenails under their combat boots.”
Another option is to add a few small toys like rubber bouncy balls or miniature super heroes – little souvenirs that can go far to winning young Afghan hearts and minds.
Loaded Ziploc bags are carefully weighed on a number of small scales. Each bag can weigh no more than eight ounces. Fifty of those bags will be packed into one large box that can weigh no more than 30 pounds, and will take care of one platoon.
“These go straight to the front lines,” Linke said. “We never know who will receive them, but we get thank you notes from all over.”
One note from Sgt. Lark, R.F. of AirOps/CAF, read, “I would like to thank you very much for the boxes you sent out here. It is not often we see that kind of support. It boosted morale through the roof. We managed to play a movie and all got a nice little sugar rush. Thank you again.”
SFC Rick Wood wrote, “Reading the notes of encouragement and drawings from the kids are greatly appreciated. We hung up pictures and cards throughout our areas.”
The volunteers who crowded into the clubhouse ranged from Pepperdine students to a 90-year-old World War II veteran.
Marine Lance Cpl. Kazimir Klossowski serves in the reserves for the 5th Battalion, 4th Marines out of Seal Beach. He was stuffing bags with what he believes will be most appreciated by the troops.
“When you have a long duty in the middle of nowhere, you need something to stay alert,” Klossowski said. “So the little energy drinks and caffeine jolts are good. Hygiene stuff is important. You don’t know how much these little bags boost morale over there.”
Also present was Leonard Zahn, father of City Councilmember Laura Zahn Rosenthal. The 90-year-old U.S.A.F. veteran flew photo reconnaissance missions in the south Pacific during World War II. He said he wanted to come help with the activities as much as he could.
“These care packages mean so much to our boys over there,” Zahn said. “I wrote notes myself to them last year, just asking them to keep happy and stay well. They are all in harm’s way.”
For more information on Operation Interdependence or to volunteer for next year’s packing party, contact Cindy Linke at: email@example.com.