It was 2007 and as you recall, it was a worrisome year in a number of ways. In addition to a faltering economy, many OOIDA members and employees had sons, daughters and adult grandchildren stationed in a war zone somewhere overseas.
OOIDA Life Member and Board Secretary Bob Esler, Taylor, Mich., was among those holding their breath until a loved one was home. Bob’s grandson was serving overseas.
In case you’re a little fuzzy on the details of 2007, the U.S. had 26 American combat brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was the year that President Bush (GW) increased the number of American troops in Iraq in order to protect Baghdad and the Al Anbar Province. They called it “the surge” of 2007 and more than 28,000 soldiers went in – mostly to Baghdad – to secure neighborhoods and deal with terrorists and roaming death squads still in the city.
The U.S. had sent 4,000 Marines to the Anbar area because al Qaeda terrorists had gathered and violence was escalating. During the surge, those Marines’ assignments were extended seven months. No going home that year. They were ordered to find the terrorists and clear them out.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and NATO also had operations alongside the Afghan Army in Afghanistan, fighting against the Taliban.
It was the year that Congress heard the testimony of Pvt. Jessica Lynch, who survived being captured after she was injured.in enemy territory. A joint special forces team raided the hospital where she was held, rescued her, and retrieved the bodies of eight other American soldiers. Jessica’s father, Greg, was a self-employed trucker and OOIDA member. He is still a Land Line reader.
Here at OOIDA headquarters, the holidays were coming and we had an idea to raise some money to send giant packages of items and hand-written cards to our troops in war zones. We would call it Truckers for Troops and make it a telethon event on our satellite radio show.
The goal was to raise $5,000 for care packages. When the grand total came to more than $43,000, including a dollar-for-dollar match by OOIDA, we were astounded. Shocked at the response from our members. I guess it was a natural fit, since no one knows how tough it is to be away from home during the holidays (or any time) more than a trucker. And a large percentage of truckers are veterans, not to mention the generous true-hearted nature of truck drivers.
We ended up sending 212 packages to troops overseas that first year. And by packages, we don’t mean little boxes. The boxes were and still are huge. Each package was stuffed with enough gift items to give to 12 soldiers, so that added up to more than 2,500 troops total. Some of the gifts were comfort items, such as double-thick tube socks or self-heating Hills Bros. coffee or hand-warmers. Some were fun items, like water pistols and footballs.
One of the first to receive a giant care package was Bob Esler’s grandson, and he shared the box with his fellow soldiers. And I vividly remember Bob telling about it – proud of his grandson and proud of OOIDA’s efforts to give St. Nick a hand.
OOIDA has been doing the telethon ever since. To date, OOIDA members have raised more than $505,850 to send packages to our troops overseas.
This year’s campaign is once more underway. Watch our daily online news updates to find out what is happening and how you can be involved, too.
And thank you to all who have donated or participated.