Arizona Group Honors One of State's Soldiers

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 27, 2007 - A letter from a soldier added bittersweet importance to Packages From Home's participation in Tucson Navy Week's weekend activities at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, and an Arizona Diamondbacks preseason baseball game.

Kathleen Lewis, founder of the Phoenix-based troop-support group, received a letter March 15 from Army Staff Sgt. Darrel Kasson thanking her for the last of the three care packages the group had sent him in Iraq. The letter touched Lewis, and she planned to send the soldier a "really, really great box" the following Saturday.

"Friday morning I got the call, and he had been killed in action with (a roadside bomb)," Lewis said. "What we decided to do was take our weekend -- Friday, Saturday and Sunday -- and dedicate it to him."

It seemed appropriate, since Kasson was from the Tucson area and the group would be spending March 16-18 there, she said. The group offered those who attended the Tucson Navy Week a chance to leave personal messages to Kasson's family at both venues.

"We had lines at our booth ... for people to sign their sentiments to both our troops and to Staff Sergeant Kasson and his family," she said. "The same was true at the Diamondbacks' game."

In addition, Packages From Home included a note in each box packed that weekend indicating the package was being sent in his honor and memory, Lewis said.

"It's never easy to hear when you lose one of your soldiers," she said. "With Sergeant Kasson, I had his letter ... on my counter and I had big plans for him.

"So we did things a little bit differently," she added.

Packages From Home is a member of the Defense Department's America Supports You program, which highlights what Americans and the corporate sector are doing to support the nation's military members and their families.

While honoring Kasson, Lewis said, she and her volunteers also got to spread the word about how others could help support servicemembers like him. At times, 10 to 20 people were at the booth, curious to learn more about Packages From Home and America Supports You.

With so many visitors to the state in the spring, it was a golden opportunity, she said

"Someone might come to our booth and (think Packages From Home is just an Arizona group)," she said. "We wanted to say, ... 'You can go to America Supports You and find out where in your state you can join a group like ours.'"

Packages From Home also was able to arrange a public service announcement about the group and America Supports You during a pre-season game. Lewis said the group hopes to work with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the state's hockey team, the Coyotes, in the future to help encourage fans to support the troops.

"As I've said a thousand times, the best of America is in Iraq and Afghanistan today," Lewis said. "That's where our best citizens are, and I love them so much."

That love is evident in the more than 85,000 packages the group has shipped to deployed servicemembers since March 2004, she said.

Tucson Navy Week, which took place March 14-20, is a weeklong series of awareness events held in conjunction with Major League Baseball Spring Training and Aerospace & Arizona Days. Twenty-six Navy weeks are planned across the country to show Americans the investment they have made in their Navy and increase awareness in cities that do not have a significant everyday Navy presence.

[Web Version:]