ABOARD USS IWO JIMA, Arabian Gulf --
Since time immemorial, warriors have left their homes and families while they struck out in support their nations' goals. And in all those thousands of years, leaving loved ones behind has always been a painful experience.
While separation is never easy, warriors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit currently deployed to the Arabian Gulf have advantages like no warfighters before. A new Family Readiness Program and support from other endeavors keep Marines' morale high and minds on the mission.
"Your family is like your backbone," said Petty Officer 1st Class Myesha Booker, religious program specialist for the MEU. "My husband -- I have two younger kids, and one of them is in kindergarten, one of them is still very young -- and without him to be able to hold things down, I wouldn't be able to support the morale of this ship. I wouldn't be as effective for the Corps if I had issues at home."
Mind on the mission
"There are two things to look at," said 26th MEU Commanding Officer Col. Mark J. Desens. "First is family readiness. We go to great lengths to ensure every MEU family is fully prepared for their Marine or sailor to deploy before we go."
"Second is family support of their Marine or sailor," Desens continued. "The cards and letters and packages they get keep their morale high, remind them of just what their fighting for. That's important."
"Both these paths lead to the same destination," explained the commander. "When my Marines and sailors know their families are taken care of at home and they get love and support from home, they can focus exclusively on their mission. Take away either one of these and the Marine or sailor is distracted, which is bad for him and the unit. Family support works two ways, and they're both imperative to our morale and our mission."
A little bit of love in the mail
Mail call on any deployed vessel is an exciting time for the Marines and sailors aboard. And postal clerks aboard the vessels of the Iwo Jima Strike Group often have their hands full as thousands of letters and packages pour in from all over the U.S. and world.
"When I get a package from home, and I know my husband has touched that package," explained Booker, "when I put my hand on that same exact spot he's put his hand on, it's like us connecting. It's like us touching each other. Packages are so important, to me anyway. My husband is prior Navy so he understands how important it is. We call it 'a little bit of love in the mail.'"
Among the boxes from friends and family are care packages from complete strangers, U.S. citizens who support deployed troops through initiatives like Operation Gratitude, church drives and other charitable events. By signing up to receive packages, hundreds of 26th MEU Marines have opened boxes bulging with candy, snacks, toiletries, movies, music and video games.
"Operation Gratitude seeks to lift troops' morale, and bring a smile to their faces by sending care packages addressed to individual service members deployed overseas," according to their website. They report to have sent nearly 400,000 packages to deployed troops.
Heather Davis of Elnora, Ind., and Diane House, a disc jockey at a Terre Haute radio station, recently mailed 150 miniature American flags to 26th MEU Marines as a gesture of thanks for the unit’s involvement assisting flood victims during torrential downpours in June. Davis said in a letter she and House wanted to "send a little token of our appreciation to those who came and helped save my hometown."
"It was important to show that no matter where we're at, we're going to help," said Cpl. Trevor J. Blackburn, who received a flag from Elnora. "No matter if it's in our own country or outside the country, you know that's what we do. Our foremost job is to help out the people who care for us."
-- Continued in "Love in the Mail" – Part 2