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Care packages count!

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- -- You may not know me, but I'm ever so familiar with you. You're my childhood friend, my long lost cousin, the person who helped me cross the street at school, the best friend I never forgot, the friend whose life was cut short too soon, the mom who attended every game, the sister who shared my room, the brother I looked up to, the dad who worked to put food on the table and clothes on my back.

If we've never met, please allow me to introduce myself. I was born and raised in Wisconsin. I grew up in a typical Wisconsin neighborhood. The neighbor kids played together outside all day long. Kick the Can, Statue, Red Light/Green Light, and Marbles were among the favorites. We'd ride our bikes to the local pool every day...brown as can be by summer's end. If we were feeling mischievous, we might gather up some dirt, sneak some ketchup from the fridge, and steal little sister's Easy Bake Oven...bake us up some mud pie topped with ants. Or, try to recreate the Hindenburg Disaster by stringing up an old model we got for Christmas, lighting it on fire, and slinging it from one end of the sand box to the other. By God's grace, the neighborhood parents were ever mindful of our deeds, and they'd catch us in the act every time. We'd have to endure the occasional reprimand - all the while, gritting our teeth together in an attempt to keep a smile from spreading clear across our face. But, atleast the neighborhood was spared from certain disaster.

Eventually, after having moved away from home, I enlisted in the United States Air Force. My first 12 years, I was an enlisted aircraft maintainer. I earned my commission and spent the second half of my career as a logistics officer. In the summer of 2009, during a ceremony dedicated to a fallen Wisconsin Marine Fighter Pilot by the name of Captain Paul D. Derby, I retired from the military as a major after a little more than 22 years of service. Oct. 1, 2009 was my first official day as a civilian since Aug. 31, 1987.

The reason I'm sharing all this with you is because I need you to know that I feel very blessed to be where I am in life today. Mostly thanks to where I came from and the people who inspired me along the way. There are others among you who've tugged at my heartstrings.... without ever having met you - which is the real reason for this commentary.

I've read about and heard of countless pleas for donations in kind/financial gifts so that grateful, loving people can send Care Packages to troops serving our nation far from home. I really need for all of you to know that what you're doing makes a difference. I need you to know, whomever you may be, that your efforts are not in vain. I guarantee you that I speak for every Airman, every Soldier, every Sailor, every Marine, when I say "thank you". Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for selflessly taking time away from work, school, family, and other commitments in order to spend an afternoon lovingly preparing Care Packages for the troops in harm's way. You couldn't possibly know how deeply appreciated your efforts are. I do because I've been in harm's way on more than one occasion. I served two tours in war zones. The last tour I commanded 150 men and was charged with running convoy route security operations. Our convoys were attacked more than 60 times using everything imaginable: small arms fire, rocket propelled grenades, land mines, mortars, road side bombs stuffed into dead animals or potholes in the road. Prior to every movement, I read Psalm 91, appealing to God and His mercy to shield me from harm. I also prayed that if His plan were to call me home that my two young children would understand. They would understand I loved them without measure, even though I chose to purposely put myself in harm's way instead of staying home with them where it was safe. To this day, I'm not really sure if God answered my prayers, or my children's prayers. It may have been a little of both, but by His grace - 150 men deployed to Iraq and 150 men returned back home to their families. Our unit was awarded the Meritorious Unit Citation and there were 22 Purple Heart and 20 Bronze Star recipients by the time we redeployed back to home station.

Over the years, I've spent many months and many holidays in foreign lands...an ocean apart from my children. I missed so many precious moments over the years: first words, first steps, first days of school, soccer games, school plays, tiny little "I love you's" from teeny, tiny, little girlie girls. But, what got me through the darkest of days was knowing that my friends and family supported me, no matter the politics of the day. No matter their opinion on whether or not we should "be there". I was fortunate and blessed to have that support. There were others who didn't have it. As a commander of 150 men I had to be tough - packing a 9MM and an M16, setting the head space and timing on a 50 cal and keeping the big guys in line - but my heart would break when I would see the same troop turn away empty-handed from mail call, day, after day, after day. It is for these men that I humbly thank you. Your efforts are not in vain. Be comforted in knowing that with your generosity you'll put a sparkle in the eyes of a Soldier. You'll spread a smile across the weathered, drawn face of an Airman. You'll create a sweet distraction for a Marine living the reality of war. And in the still night, when you lay your head down to rest, after the boxes have been packed and mailed...you may just hear the laughter of a Sailor carried through the winds of space and time.

Without a shadow of a doubt...you are all precious to me. Just as precious as those who stand in the shadows. The ones who are left behind when their loved ones deploy - paying the bills, caring for the children, completing the daily chores, smiling when they'd rather not, and pouring themselves into a lonely bed at the end of a long day...sobbing with such intensity their heart wrenches in their chest. The innocent ones that struggle to concentrate on homework while their little minds reel clips of CNN across their blank papers. The ones whose heart sinks at the sight of happy families laughing amongst themselves in a restaurant, daddy's playing ball with their sons, or mommy's strolling their babies through the market. The simple things in life that we all take for granted until it's taken away. All those who stand in the shadows are charged to carry on when their loved ones are gone. They pick up the slack with grace, lacking complaint. Because of their devotion - because of their steadfast vigilance - the Soldier accurately sets the head-space and timing on his 50-cal, the Airman skillfully calculates proper aircraft fuel levels, the Sailor moors his ship without a hitch, and the Marine aims his weapon straight and true. For if not for those who stand in the shadows, the warfighter's mind would be burdened and their thought processes distracted. For if not for those who stand in the shadows...the tough work may not get done.

To those who care....to those who stand in the shadows...thank you. Thank you for being the bedrock of support for our deployed troops. They couldn't possibly complete their missions without you standing firm upon the home front. You make a difference!

Editor's Note: Annette Bonaro takes her advice to heart - she personally sends care packages to every headquarters AFDW Airmen she helps send downrange as unit deployment manager.