Supporting the troops is her passion
by Marie Nesmith
Aug 13, 2010 | 2188 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Rydal resident Claudene Gallenbeck examines the items she usually includes in a care package for troops usually stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Rydal resident Claudene Gallenbeck examines the items she usually includes in a care package for troops usually stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Through her correspondence with military personnel over the past three years, Claudene Gallenbeck has learned the impact of sending a single letter or care package. This was made apparent by a letter the Rydal resident received from a soldier, who was one of four that received her package last Christmas, one day after they arrived in Iraq.

"It meant a lot to them," said Gallenbeck, a substitute teacher for the Bartow County School System and a salesperson for Integrity Roofers. "In the letter he was thanking me for the letter I wrote him. In the letter he told me all about his family and how hard it was to be away from home. He just really appreciated somebody acknowledging that he needed a letter. It's something so simple, [that takes] what a 44-cent stamp?

"It means the world to them [that] somebody cares. It's just nice to know that somebody back home supports the soldiers. So many people don't. A lot of people don't write letters to soldiers or people don't acknowledge that there's a war going on. But for them, the idea that somebody from home or from America took 10 minutes to write a letter, I know they appreciate it."

Along with obtaining their addresses through relatives and friends, Gallenbeck also corresponds with military personnel -- the majority of whom are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan -- listed on websites, such as Keeping with military regulations, her care packages are usually filled with travel-sized toiletries, a Bible, devotional items and newspaper articles from home. Half of the more than 100 servicemen that Gallenbeck has contacted respond with letters and gifts of military paraphernalia, such as baseball caps, T-shirts and lanyards.

While Gallenbeck describes her correspondence with servicemen as her passion, she admits she did not realize the need to acknowledge their sacrifice until a few years ago.

"To me, Iraq was another country," Gallenbeck said. "It was a far, far away land. I didn't even pay attention to what was going on in the world. Then when my neighbor down the street went to Iraq, it [made] a difference because it was closer to home. [He was] my second daughter's best friend's dad, so it was certainly a little bit closer to home.

"So I started sending letters and kind of got involved that way. Then when he got home he said, 'That meant so much, why don't you adopt more soldiers?' Then I got carried away with it. Then I really got passionate. They don't know how much they're appreciated because they're so far away from home. He kind of encouraged me to pursue it."

For Anna Davis, Gallenbeck's support was greatly appreciated when her Marine husband, James, was stationed for two years at Tampa, Fla., and Twentynine Palms, Calif.

"She wrote him through e-mail and I think she may have written him a couple of letters," Davis said. "Me and her go to the same church so she was a big support to me because she was always asking me, 'Do [you] need any help with anything?' [She] asked me how I was doing. If I needed anything she was always there to help. That meant a lot because my family [except for my two sisters] lives about four hours away so just having her was a big help."

In addition to communicating with servicemen, Gallenbeck also has volunteered with United Service Organizations, visiting with military personnel at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and helped organize Northwest Christian Church's Military Christmas program, which has shipped care packages and cards for the past three years. In her spare time she also enjoys watching military air shows and she is penning a fiction book, "Samuel's Big Heart," that she hopes will be released in a year.

Through her support of the military, Gallenbeck hopes to inspire others to follow suit. She said she welcomes the opportunity to engage people in conversation that is sometimes sparked by her red, white and blue bracelet that reads "Support Your Troops." When relaying the story behind her jewelry item, she often asks the question, "Have you written a letter to a soldier this week?"