An Exclusive Interview with Frank: The Impact of Care Packages on Military Personnel
In this enlightening interview, OCC spoke with Frank Keffer, a veteran who was one of the first recipients of OCC’s care packages in 2003. He shared his experiences receiving care packages while deployed overseas. Frank’s story highlights the significance of small gestures from home and the profound impact they have on military personnel.
Q: Can you share your experience receiving a care package from Operation: Care and Comfort?
Frank: I was deployed in Kuwait, waiting to go into Iraq. I had only been there for a few weeks. The base there was pretty well established, and it had a little store they call the PX. They have some goods in there. But with several thousand soldiers there, they go out of goods pretty quickly. There was a guy passing out mail, and he called me and gave me a box. I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “What is this? Who is this from?”. It turned out to be my first piece of mail from Operation: Care and Comfort, sent by Julie. I was genuinely moved. I literally cried because it meant so much that someone I didn’t know took the time to send me a piece of home.
There were two major things that really like got me. It was a giant’s hat and a Shark’s t-shirt, and being in the military, you’re kind of known for where you come from. And so you know friends from all over, and you know they were Chicago Bears fans, or Philadelphia Eagles fans, or Texas Rangers fans, etc.
And so getting those hats and shirts from, I got to show off my home teams and where I’m from, and so it meant everything.
And then, you know, I didn’t expect Julie to ever send more. I figured this lady did her good deed, God bless her, and thought that was the end. But little that I know. That was only the beginning. And 20 years later, here we are talking about it right and still involved in it because I know what a difference these boxes make and the ways this organization helps.
Q: What was it like being deployed right after 9/11?
Frank: The Bay Area, where I am from, was largely against the war, so I didn’t expect much mail aside from my family and close friends. Receiving that care package reminded me of home and gave me a sense of pride in where I came from.
We didn’t have our usual comfort items. We were in a new place, eating boxed foods, sleeping on cots.
Q: How did not having access to everyday items like toothpaste or home-cooked food affect you?
Frank: It was challenging, but we adapted and made do with what we had. Military food can get monotonous, so sometimes we’d even skip meals. The care packages were a welcome break from that routine.
Q: What did it mean for you to receive a care package while serving overseas?
Frank: Receiving care packages brightened our days and provided a temporary escape from the monotony. It was like having a taste of home and a reminder that people were thinking of us. Sharing these packages with other soldiers also helped boost morale.
Q: How did care packages impact the relationship with local children?
Frank: Care packages often included candy, which we could share with local kids. This simple act helped ease tensions and put smiles on their faces, showing them that we weren’t just invaders but people who cared.
Q: Why do you think receiving care packages is important for service members?
Frank: Care packages offer a connection to home and a chance to request specific items that can make a difference, such as powdered Gatorade to help with hydration. These packages also provide a sense of belonging for soldiers who might not receive mail from family or friends. I knew soldiers who didn’t get any mail, or got 1 thing in the very beginning and then nothing, so to be able to share items with them felt really great.
And now we support a lot of the chaplains who know which soldiers and service members don’t get any mail and they are able to give them care packages so they could have something to open, something to look forward to and feel like they are being thought of.
Q: What were some of your favorite items to receive in care packages?
Frank: Some of my favorites included books, gum, candy to share with local kids, and flavored drink powders to make the water more enjoyable. These simple items made a huge difference and were greatly appreciated when we didn’t have access to much else.
Q: As a veteran, what were some toiletries that you found essential during your deployment?
Frank: Shaving cream was a game-changer for me. Initially, I only had a travel-size one, which quickly ran out. I resorted to using soap or dry shaving, which led to razor bumps and even an ingrown hair that turned into a painful cyst. So I got excited and was definitely very appreciative whenever I got shaving cream. A lot of times, it’s really the little things that make a huge difference.
Q: If you could have sent yourself a care package with a few items, what would you include?
Frank: I’d send gum. I always tried to keep gum in my pocket. It was really something to look forward to because it was tasty. I’d go through all the candy, get all the gum, and give the rest away.
I’d also send a notebook or diary to document my experiences. Sometimes I think if I did that, maybe it would have helped with my emotional/spiritual journey.
I would have loved to have a satellite phone to call home (though not too often, as it might have made me miss home more). Oh! A comfortable pillow, and a mattress topper for my army cot. However, I must say that having all these luxuries might take away from the experience of struggling and appreciating what we had and didn’t have during our deployment.
Q: What are some items you would put in a care package for soldiers overseas today?
Frank: I’d include beef jerky, some food items they might request specifically, and maybe some basic necessities. Communication is much easier nowadays, so a satellite phone might not be as necessary.
Q: How did your experience receiving care packages inspire you to get involved with OCC when you returned?
Frank: I wanted to thank Julie for her support and give back to those who didn’t receive anything. I was inspired to help with care packages and eventually got involved with the organization’s other programs like ticket donations and the Adopt-a-Family program.
I was a police officer for a while when I got back, but I questioned if I was really making a difference. With OCC, it made me feel like I was making a difference and having a real impact on people’s lives. It really filled a piece of me and I have so much gratitude for the work we do.
Q: Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
Frank: I always encourage people to find something meaningful to them and get involved. Whether it’s donating time, money, or resources, giving back can make a difference in the world and in the lives of others. I’m living proof that your contributions can change lives, and it’s essential to find your passion and give back.