Santa Fe College: Supporting the Troops, Operation CarePak
Many colleges and universities across the United States have lost students called up for military service in Iraq or Afghanistan, and Santa Fe College (SFC) is no exception. In April of 2003, Sgt. John Travis Rivero was killed at the age of 23 in a Humvee accident in the Iraqi desert. Three months later, Sgt. Jeffrey Mattison Wershow was killed at age 22 in a terrorist attack while providing security for American educators visiting Baghdad University.
Both former Santa Fe students were from Gainesville, Florida, and both served in the 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment of the Florida Army National Guard. This past March, that same battalion was redeployed for a second tour of duty in Kuwait and Iraq.
In response, Operation CarePak, a project to support the 2nd/124th soldiers with gifts from home and to honor the students who died in 2003, has won overwhelming support not only from the Santa Fe College community but also from the greater North Central Florida area. "The redeployed soldiers are the sons and daughters of our friends, neighbors, and co-workers," said Anne Marie Mattison, the mother of Jeffrey Wershow and a part-time student advisor at Santa Fe. "They are college students, cable guys, elected officials, career National Guard soldiers, school teachers—you name it, they are there."
Santa Fe President Jackson Sasser also gave his strong support to the project. "These heroes believe in this country, our way of life, our laws and values. They believe in us. The least we can do is send our support to show that we believe in them and we honor their service." The project has also gained the support of members of the SFC Senate, SFC Student Senate, Career Service employees, the SFC chapter of the Florida Association of Community Colleges, and the SFC family at large, Mattison said. One local high school and many members have also reached out to get involved.
Using a network of collection boxes positioned throughout the Santa Fe campus and the community, students, faculty, staff, and area residents donated an enormous variety of supplies: personal care items, nonperishable foods and snacks, over-the-counter medicines, books, magazines, games, DVDs, and phone cards, to name just a few.
When a favorite local barbeque restaurant heard of the project, they donated 1,000 packets of their sauce, an "awesome contribution," according to Major Blake Glass, a local liaison for the soldiers. A wholesale sock company donated enough white athletic socks to ensure that each of the 601 soldiers from Gainesville had a pair. And a local peanut farmer donated enough bags of roasted peanuts to satisfy the soldiers' desire for this favorite snack from home.
In short, the response has been overwhelming. While the goal for the month of May was to send 15 large boxes overseas, there were enough supplies for 55 boxes! "It gives us a head start on next month," said Mattison, "and we'll be right there with them until they come home."