‘Operation American Soldier’ continuously deploying care packages

Jillian Fennimore

They have shipped more than 1,000 care packages overseas and spent $14,000 in out-of-pocket money to ensure no soldier leaves mail call empty-handed.

“Operation American Soldier” began when the war hit home for the Roccas. Their daughter Tracy was deployed to Iraq in 2002.

“I got an e-mail from her when she was in Kuwait,” John said. “The question was, ‘What do you need?’”

He discovered that lines were close to three hours long at the base’s commissary, and chances are if soldiers did not arrive early enough, they would leave with nothing.

John and Wendy began to send “fun stuff” to soldiers: squirt guns, water balloons, Frisbees, paddleballs, DVDs, books, exercise equipment, air fresheners and food. The operation has since outgrown their living room and occupies the basement of the couple’s Spruce Street home.

Beanie Babies with the Army logo turned into mascots on the dashboard of convoys; many letters are sent with cravings for Dunkin’ Donuts coffee; seeds have been sent to plant a garden in Afghanistan; and one soldier from Hawaii was ecstatic when he opened a package with a small toy ukulele inside.

“We’ve sent some bizarre things,” John said. “What people forget is that the average age is 22. They’re still kids.”

In the Rocca family, service in the military runs deep. John served in the Army from 1975 to 1978. His oldest son, Tony, has been serving in the Army Reserves for three years, and youngest son Nick, 19, is an Army National Guardsman stationed in Arizona for field artillery. Tracy just re-enlisted in the Army at the age of 33.

Both Wendy and John say their thoughts on the Iraq war and political views are not part of their task.