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Local students wish deployed USACE employees ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ with handmade cards

Public Affairs
Published Nov. 15, 2013
This student's card was included in a pile of 1,400 handmade holiday cards received by the Los Angeles District meant for deployed troops and civilians.  The card drive was initiated by the Veterans Advocacy Group of America and sponsored by Skanska.

This student's card was included in a pile of 1,400 handmade holiday cards received by the Los Angeles District meant for deployed troops and civilians. The card drive was initiated by the Veterans Advocacy Group of America and sponsored by Skanska.

A pile of roughly 1,400 holiday greeting cards were delivered to the Los Angeles District headquarters as part of a holiday card drive initiated by the Encino, Calif.-based Veterans Advocacy Group of America.

A pile of roughly 1,400 holiday greeting cards were delivered to the Los Angeles District headquarters as part of a holiday card drive initiated by the Encino, Calif.-based Veterans Advocacy Group of America.

From left to right: Sterling Barbour, vice president of the Veterans Advocacy Group of America; Jennie Ayala, the District's outreach coordinator; Tova Barbour, VAGA's president; and Lori Lieberman, a VAGA volunteer, sort through a pile of holiday greeting cards at the District headquarters Nov. 1.  The cards will be mailed to deployed troops and civilians in Afghanistan as part of a goodwill outreach program initiated by VAGA.

From left to right: Sterling Barbour, vice president of the Veterans Advocacy Group of America; Jennie Ayala, the District's outreach coordinator; Tova Barbour, VAGA's president; and Lori Lieberman, a VAGA volunteer, sort through a pile of holiday greeting cards at the District headquarters Nov. 1. The cards will be mailed to deployed troops and civilians in Afghanistan as part of a goodwill outreach program initiated by VAGA.

LOS ANGELES—Local students of all grades from elementary through high school, offered happy—and often adorable—sentiments for the Thanksgiving holiday through handmade cards fashioned for Corps employees and troops supporting operations in Afghanistan.

More than 1,400 cards were delivered to the District headquarters by the goodwill program’s sponsoring agency, the Veterans Advocacy Group of America, on Nov. 1.  The cards will be forwarded to employees of the Los Angeles District and others serving in temporary assignments in Afghanistan.

One card read: “Happy Thanksgiving.  Thank you for going out and fighting for our freedom.  We are very grateful for you serving our country.  It has to be hard away from all your family.  I know how it feels.  I felt that way in kindergarten.  So I hope you enjoy all this yummy food.  Love, Alex.”

The goal is that the cards arrive at the Corps’ various offices in the Southwest Asian country in time for Thanksgiving.  Sterling Barbour, VAGA’s vice president and Army veteran, said the initiative is meant to brighten troops’ and civilians’ days as they spend the holiday away from loved ones.

“I’m a Vietnam veteran, and to get cards and letters when you’re out there—it means so much.  I know it’s going to make the troops happy and put smiles on their faces.  We try to do anything possible to make their days better,” he said.  

Sterling’s wife, Tova, is the president of VAGA, a non-profit organization headquartered in Encino, Calif., that seeks to improve training, employment and other post-military service benefit opportunities for veterans and their families.

“The card campaign is a way to connect the local community with veterans.  The card campaign is a sense of responsibility and respect for our overseas troops,” Tova said.  “By having students and local organizations help with the cards, it gives them a sense of pride and heightened awareness.  This is a way to show patronage to our troops for the outstanding job they are doing in defending our country.  Our overall mission is to raise awareness for our troops with commitment, compassion and respect.”

Anne Hutton, chief of the District’s emergency management office, manages the District’s family support and civilian deployment efforts.  Hutton’s department periodically mails deployees copies of the District family newsletter, on which cards are sometimes attached for coinciding holidays.

“Oftentimes, what you see is that the recipient will send us an e-mail because they’re so touched by the card,” Hutton said.  “It’s always the favorite item in the packages we send.”

Although the Los Angeles District maintains an average of 30 civilian employees deployed to Afghanistan at any given period, the high volume of cards received for the Thanksgiving holiday will be put to good use and distributed to many others in the region.

“Not every district is in a huge metropolitan area with lots of schools, so even though we have 40 people deployed from the District, we know that these cards are being shared,” Hutton said.  “They're always well received by an entire office as opposed to just an individual and we know that extra cards are making their way to others around the country.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has maintained a presence in Afghanistan since 2002 overseeing Afghan military, police, and civil works, operations and maintenance, and capacity development projects on behalf of U.S. Forces and the Afghan government.