Thursday, June 2, 2011

Airborne angels

Nancy Carter, pictured on the right, is one of the most remarkable women any American could ever hope to meet.

Over 12,000 adopted soldiers, sailors and airmen serving in Iraq and Afghanistan agree.

Nancy, a flight attendant for a major airline, found out about some lonely soldiers in Afghanistan back in 2005. She gathered up some personal items and went shopping for some more. Things like envelopes, stamps, t-shirts, soap, toiletries--basic staples for you and me, but luxuries for our troops serving in the most hellish part of the planet under the most hellish of conditions: War.

The response and heartfelt gratitude she received from this couple of dozen soldiers moved this remarkable woman in ways she'd never been moved before. So she adopted more soldiers, and she was now up to thirty-five.

At one point, she was buying disposable cameras from Walgreens and Walmart, mailing them overseas to her soldiers with pre-paid packaging for them to mail them back once they'd taken their pictures. She had the film developed, then mailed the pictures back.

As she told me, "There aren't too many one-hour photo labs over in Afghanistan."

For anyone who has been in the military, you know how precious pictures are. Pictures and photographs are what we used to foster pleasant memories while we were doing an unpleasant job, often in unpleasant places and most often always under the most unpleasant of conditions and circumstances.

Speaking for myself, I still have pictures of me and my fellow airmen from thirty years ago. And talk about the memories they inspire.

Fast forward to the present. Nancy now has over 12,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen and she has a charity called Airborne Angel Cadets of Texas.

It's not just a "Texas" thing--donations pour in from everywhere.

Nancy and her volunteers--everyone involved is a non-paid volunteer--collect money to both purchase items for our troops, and more importantly, to ship those items overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan. It's expensive, as you can imagine, and FedEx, UPS or USPS give exactly zero discounts or "breaks" in getting packages over there. They can't--there is, after all, a war going on and doing anything in a war zone is expensive, not to mention dangerous.

Doesn't matter. Nancy and her team, and make no mistake about it as they ARE a team, have never been deterred. They continue to press on. And as you can see in the picture below during a recent "cookie drive," their determination fills up trucks.

And don't let Nancy fool you. I've seen her drive those big trucks in and out of grocery store parking lots and negotiate the madness that is known as North Texas Traffic. I've seen her shiver on the sidewalks in front of a Kroger's grocery store in early January collecting gifts and donations, and I've seen the sweat pour off her in mid-August as she loads up a truck in a Walgreens parking lot.

There is a special place in Heaven for people like Nancy Carter, but as far as the troops are concerned, they hope Heaven can wait. Because right now, Heaven has sent an angel to them--lots of angels, as a matter of fact--and those angels keep the troops connected with the USA.

Keep in mind that not all of our troops even have families here at home. Some are orphans. Many come from dysfunctional families and they fled those families for a better life. Some troops send their entire meager paycheck home each month to keep their newlywed wife and newborn baby in food and rent.

Things we take for granted like a box of cookies or a package of Duncan Donuts coffee or some Old Spice body wash. . . those things are other-worldly luxuries to many of these young troops serving in the remotest of FOBs (Forward Operating Bases) in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Along with the gifts, the Airborne Angels also include letters and cards written by everyone from school kids to customers at the grocery stores and fund-raisers. Those cards and the brief notes often touch the hearts of our fighting men and women as much as the candy bars and cookies do.

It tells them we care and that we're damn proud of them.

It doesn't take much to help out Airborne Angel Cadets of Texas. You can donate a dollar. A five-dollar donation ensures a package the size of a flat-rate mail box package gets to Iraq or Afghanistan. Nancy and her fellow angels have become other-world experts in maximizing what they can pack in boxes and containers in order to get the most shipping bang for their buck.

I encourage you to go to their website, Airborne Angel Cadets of Texas and read some of the stories, some of the letters written to them from the soldiers, sailors and airmen served by Nancy and her team. Look at the pictures.

If you're like this old vet, your chest will swell up with pride about the same time your eyes start getting a little watery. You'll look at those young people and realize they represent everything that is good about America. Many of us will see ourselves in those pictures, back when we were young and innocent and ready to take on the world with an M16 in our hands and a buddy by our side.

But we'll also remember the lonely nights, the holidays spent alone in a strange place, the cold meals, the fear of waiting on something to happen--and wondering if it all meant something and if what we were doing was right.

Read the letters from these heroes serving you and me. They tell you that they know what they are doing is right because they know, thanks to Nancy and her fellow angels, that people back at home are supporting them.

It doesn't take much to help: A dollar or two, a moment or two to jot a note, the passing moment to forward this story via e-mail to your friends and continue getting the word out.

Some people give a lot of lip service to caring about the troops. Others give a lot more than lip service.

Nancy Carter and Airborne Angel Cadets give it their all, and for that, we should all be grateful and supportive.

Thanks, Nancy, and God Bless you and your fellow angels.


Old NFO said...

Amen... BTDT, have the same pictures... Donation on the way!

Keads said...

Donation is on the way!