Military mom sends gifts of love to troops

NEWS: East Volusia 
 http://www.news-journalonline.com/NewsJournalOnline/News/Neighbors/DailyJournal/evlDJ04032407.htm



March 24, 2007

NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- Mary Forester gets e-mails that say things like "for a few days it was a soldiers' orgy of pogey bait gluttony around here."

"I don't even know what pogey bait means," said the 45-year-old New Smyrna Beach resident through her smile.

For almost three years, such e-mails have been a regular occurrence for Forester. She has become a welcome name on a package or e-mail addressed to a soldier serving overseas in Iraq or Afghanistan, providing a few items of comfort or voice from home. And as the war on terrorism enters its fifth year this week, the rail-thin Marine mom has no intention of stopping.

Forester's crusade began when her eldest son, Matt, a Marine, was stationed in Iraq in June 2004.

He would ask her for things the soldiers could not get in the combat zone -- not only comfort items like candy, socks or baby wipes, but unusual things like boot insoles, black duct tape and carabiners.

"I knew if he needed things there would be other troops that were not getting things from their families," she said. So the owner of her own cleaning business started collecting items, boxing them up and shipping them out.

When Matt came home in 2005, Forester did not stop. She continued providing items to the troops, including sending a trailer filled with supplies to his unit when it was stationed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Word spread and soldiers would learn about Forester's efforts, either through her MySpace Web site, or word of mouth, and would seek her out.

She has provided items to units in Afghanistan, to troops in military surgical hospitals on front lines in Baghdad, and across the war zone.

"I get requests ranging from contact lens cleaning solution to bikini posters," she said. One respondent named Dan asked for a week off in the Dominican Republic.

Forester estimates, with the help of many local groups and individuals who have donated items, money and other assistance, she has touched the lives of more than 2,000 troops by shipping thousands of pounds of goodies to them -- although she admits there is no real way to tell how many people may have gotten one of her care packages or how much she has spend sending them.

The work has not gone unnoticed. Forester said she has become close to some of the soldiers who have benefited from her largesse. They exchange emails and on occasion meet when one gets home.

One soldier, Staff Sgt. Shane Witcher, sent Forester an e-mail about the arrival of 20 boxes to his unit stationed in Afghanistan.

"It was like Christmas around here," he wrote of distributing the goodies to his troops. "Even I was surprised at how excited the troops got. I just sat back with a big smile on my face and watched the show."

"People will feel the effects of your hard work and good deeds," Witcher added.

Reading such thank-yous bring tears to Forester's eyes.

"It feels good trying to do something for someone," she said. "I am just trying to let them know I appreciate what they are doing."

While Forester says she will continue to send comfort items overseas, she has expanded her efforts, joining Operation Helmet in its crusade to provide upgrades for combat helmets.

The organization, which was started by a retired Navy doctor whose grandson was in the Marines, provides insert pads for helmets designed to enhance protection for the wearer from blunt-force trauma caused by things like explosions from IEDs.

"The goodies make them comfortable," Forester said. "The pads can save their lives."

For this mother of two, whose younger son wants to follow in his big brother's footsteps, sending a few packages overseas is the least she can do for those serving their country.

"The longer the war goes on the more people have become immune to it," Forester said. "I feel I need to do my part because they are over there doing their part."

mark.johnson@news-jrnl.com

Anyone wishing to help Forester with her efforts or to get more information about sending items to soldiers overseas can call her at (386) 427-6784 or e-mail maryforester@earthlink.net.