Thinking of the kids left behind (12/17/09)

Scouts send ‘Hero Packs’ to soldiers’ children

Dec. 17, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

As he penned a note to go with gifts for a military kid, 10-year-old Nate Bamberger reflected on how he would feel if his mom or dad went off to war in Afghanistan.


    Observer photo by Greg Elias
Cub Scouts Nicolas Durieux (left) and Zachary Hark place a stuffed animal in a ‘Hero Pack.’ Each member of the pack brought an item to place in sacks, which were sewn by Williston Girl Scouts.

“I’ve thought about that a lot,” he said. “I’d feel pretty sad if it happened to me.”

Nate was among roughly 100 members of Cub Scout Pack 692 who gathered at Williston Central School on Monday evening to assemble “Hero Packs” for children of Vermont military members deployed overseas.

Amid the din of excited voices, Cubmaster Will Littlefield told the kids and their parents that the effort was a “communication tool” intended to “tell military kids how much the community cares.”

The boys grabbed green and red cinch bags and circulated among tables piled with gifts in the school’s cafeteria. Like little Santas, they stuffed their sacks with disposable cameras, scrapbooks, pencils, notepads, photo albums and other items.

The effort in Williston is part of a national program called “Operation: Military Kids.” The U.S. Army launched the program in 2005 as a collaboration with communities around the country to support children affected by deployments.

The Hero Packs are intended to thank children for the sacrifices they make when their parents are deployed, according to the Operation: Military Kids Web site. They contain items that can help youngsters communicate with their far-away mothers or fathers.

The University of Vermont Extension’s 4-H program oversees the state’s Hero Packs initiative. The Williston pack learned about the program through Boy Scouting’s Green Mountain Council, said Danielle O’Brien, a parent who helped organize the local effort.

Girl Scouts also pitched in. O’Brien said members of four Williston troops sewed the 50 cinch bags, scrambling to get the work done within two weeks, in time for Monday’s sack-packing activity.

Each Cub Scout brought an item to place in the Hero Packs. Local businesses and nonprofits chipped in with gift certificates and vouchers. O’Brien said contributors included Mexicali Grill and Cantina, Passport Video, Rocky’s N.Y. Pizza, Sports & Fitness Edge, Villari’s Self Defense and Wellness Centers, Zachary’s Pizza and the Williston-Richmond Rotary.

Littlefield said the program was a perfect match for Cub Scouts.

“One of the core principles and missions of Scouting is community involvement, community service and respect and giving back,” he said. “So this was a great project for us to get involved with. It encompassed all those aspects.”

None of the Scouts interviewed had a parent being deployed. But some said they or their parents knew of someone who was a military member serving overseas.

Littlefield said it was inevitable given the size of Williston and the local Cub Scout pack that some of the kids or their parents would have a connection to the 1,500 Vermonters being deployed to Afghanistan. Members of the Vermont Army National Guard have been leaving in groups of several hundred over the past few months, with the deployment scheduled to be completed by the end of January.

“Many of them have neighbors, relatives or even family members” going overseas, Littlefield said. “I myself do not, but I have a number of neighbors on my street that have served several times. It can hit close to home.”

After the hero packs were filled, the Scouts wrote notes to go with the gifts. Brendan Leprevost, 8, neatly printed his in orange pen.

“Take this gift as our appreciation,” he wrote. “You’re so brave!”