Just some soap, shampoo – a candy bar, even, from someone back home can bring a smile to the face of a soldier who comes under fire every day – or a note that says, “We’re thinking about you.”
Over the last six months, UNC Kenan-Flagler professor Bob Connolly has coordinated a growing network of people at the School and beyond to gather 1,500 pounds of these types of items in nearly 100 care packages to send to troops in hot zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, letting them know that they are by no means forgotten.
It all started with one e-mail he sent last Thanksgiving to a listserv for his neighborhood. His daughter Renée (MBA ’06), had seen a clip on TV about Any Soldier. The organization matches its contact soldiers in the field with folks in the states who want to send care packages. The organization emphasizes soldiers who don’t get much mail – hence, its name.
Connolly, who teaches the MBA core microeconomics course, asked in his e-mail whether his neighbors would like to drop off used paperbacks and hotel-sized toiletries for him to send.
That one message spread like a sandstorm, netting the 1,500 pounds of supplies and about 12 dozen cookies from the Great Harvest Bread Co., which Connolly mailed recently. Great Harvest plans to keep up the shipments.
Connolly’s e-mails with military contacts connected him eventually with Col. Todd Ebel, commander of the second brigade of the 101st Airborne Division in Baghdad. Turned out the two had more in common than supporting the troops.
On May 14, both of their oldest daughters graduated from UNC: Connolly’s daughter Renée, with an MBA, and Brooke Ebel, with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
When Ebel learned he could get leave for his daughter’s commencement, the Connollys invited the Ebels to lunch at their house on commencement Sunday.
Connolly put a note on the announcement board for MBA students at UNC Kenan-Flagler. “They’ve jumped all over this,” he said. Students have been dropping off their items with Barbara Ann Aversano in the MBA Admissions office. “She’s my loyal co-conspirator,” Connolly said.
Aversano made a label for the packages: “It has a star and an American flag on it. It says, ‘Thanks for your service to our country, from the faculty, students, staff and Military Veterans Club at Kenan-Flagler Business School at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.'”
Mac Bergson (MBA ’07), president of the veterans club, put the word out to the club; more donations came in. “They’re bringing in paperbacks, little tubes of toothpaste and stuffed animals and coloring books,” Aversano said. “The troops use those to give to the children over there.”
Another student, Robert Stankavish (MBA ’06), asked, “Would you mind if I put this on e-mail to my neighborhood?” Guess who lives there? Bob Krueger, owner of Great Harvest. Soon, Connolly was picking up cookies.
“We sent them to a unit in one of the ugliest fights in all of Iraq – in Ramadi,” he said. He e-mailed the company commander, telling him how many boxes to expect.
Just as he pressed “Send,” he learned later, the recipients were under heavy fire. Two soldiers were wounded but will recover. The Americans also defeated three snipers who were moving into position to fire on the unit.
“This is the daily life we live here in … Eastern Ramadi,” Capt. Joe Claburn, commander of C Company, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, e-mailed to Connolly. “Thank you for taking the time to tell the story of these men who fight bravely every day … Your service to the soldiers is admirable.”
Claburn mailed Connolly a battered American flag that flew outside his command post in Iraq, to present to Krueger in appreciation. Connolly wrote back: “You made my day! The reason for the care package project is to lift burdens and raise spirits for our troops in the field. If our respect for the sacrifices made by you and your soldiers is apparent in these small contributions, we have been compensated a hundred-fold.”