Throughout nature, mothers are known to protect their young. Birds build nests high up in trees to keep predators from their eggs. Kangaroos hold their babies close in their pouches. Bears will kill their enemies when their cubs are threatened. Mothers are driven by instinct–protect those who are in harm’s away and comfort them when they are vulnerable.
It is no wonder then that when news broke in early June of a truck bomb exploding inside Forward Operating Base Salerno near the city of Khost in Afghanistan, a group of very dedicated West Point moms sprang into action. First, they offered prayers of thanks that the attack had resulted in no military deaths. Then they rallied the troops, and what I like to call “Operation: Comfort and Care Packages”, was launched.
Since January, I have been a member of West Point Moms Bake. We are a group of 182 mothers of West Point cadets and graduates who believe our mission is to supply our troops with cookies, brownies and all things homemade. Each member of the group is part of a 10-mom team. I am on the Sky Dragons team, named after the “Sky Dragons” of the XVIII Airborne Corps–the corps of the United States Army designed for rapid deployment anywhere in the world, and is the Army’s largest warfighting organization.
Every month, each team is assigned a soldier deployed overseas to whom we are encouraged to overwhelm with gratitude and appreciation. With each mom on a team sending to the same soldier at different times throughout the month, the lucky recipient receives several boxes of homebaked goodness to share with his or her battle buddies.
At the beginning of each month, I eagerly await the email that brings me the name and address of the next soldier who will soon know the wonders of my snickerdoodles. June’s email, however, was different. Not only did it contain the long-awaited name, but it also delivered the news of FOB Salerno. While there had been no loss of military life from the attack, reported as the work of Taliban militia, the consequences of the violence were still devastating to the US troops stationed there.
The truck bomb that had breached FOB Salerno’s gates exploded just outside the base’s dining facility, resulting in heavy damage to that structure as well as to the nearby PX where military personnel can purchase toiletries and other comfort items. Until the dining facility and PX can be rebuilt and re-supplied, the only food available to these young men and women will be MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), and “comfort items” will be just a distant memory.
In addition to this most recent attack, FOB Salerno has been nick named “Rocket City” because it has been the target of incoming rocket and mortar fire many times over the course of the war in Afghanistan. Those stationed here have seen more than their share of violence, and this most recent attack is sure to be a blow to moral compounded by the physical damage left behind and the toll from the hardships they will face in the coming days and weeks as they rebuild what was lost.
My June care package recipient is a female soldier stationed at FOB Salerno, and unlike previous months, the moms sending packages to her would not just be the 10 on my Sky Dragons team. Nearly 80 other moms were assigned this same soldier, and our orders were to care for the Salerno soldiers as if they were our own. Upon arrival, our boxes would be distributed among all soldiers, and we were asked to send not only baked goods this time, but other sorely needed items–soap, shampoo, deodorant, canned tuna and chicken, ramen noodles, crackers, pens, paper.
Word quickly spread across Facebook, and soon other West Point moms not included on the original list were volunteering to send a package to FOB Salerno as well as to their assigned soldier. Trips to Costco and Sam’s were planned, and many moms (myself included) announced they were preparing two or more boxes. Some lamented at not including more baked items in their boxes, but with time being critical to our mission, the solution was to send packaged items right away and supplement with boxes of cookies later in the month.
So, while bears kill for their children and birds hide their babies in far away tree tops, West Point moms stretch their hearts wide to encompass fellow Army moms’ children and shower them with love and support from home. We also thank them for what they do. The nature of their job is to endure hardships, so we do not have to. The least we can do is donate our time, our money and our kitchens to help make their sacrifices a little easier to bare.
The news coming out out of Afghanistan is often hard to hear, and we feel powerless as we listen to reports of more death and destruction. This time, however, when we heard about FOB Salerno, we knew we could make a difference.
Boxes of comfort are our specialty, and help is on its way.
***UPDATE*** West Point Moms Bake packages began arriving at FOB Salerno June 18–a little more than two weeks after the truck bomb destroyed that base’s dining facility and PX. So far, 85 boxes have been delivered and distributed among the very grateful troops. Our contact there reports that the toiletries and snacks are proving to be a great morale booster.
News of the boxes’ arrival, however, comes on the day that Army officials acknowledged that the damage done to FOB Salerno was much worse than originally reported. The explosion of the truck carrying 1,500 pounds of explosives killed two Americans and seriously wounded three dozen troops. More than 100 soldiers sustained minor injuries. U.S. officials are currently assessing security at FOB Salerno. (Read more about the attack.)