C is for cookie, that’s good enough for them

HIGHLAND, N.Y. -- It's easy to take the little things in life for granted, but for members of our armed forces stationed in Afghanistan, these are often the things that can mean a lot. Especially when the little things are 60 boxes of delicious Girl Scout cookies which are tasty and powerful reminders of all things home.

Nine young ladies comprising Daisy Troop #60043 at Highland Elementary School in Highland, N.Y., collected cookies for Operation Cookie Drop, a component of their 2011 Girl Scout cookie sale that allowed customers to dedicate their purchases to service men and women.

Since one of the principles of the Girl Scout Promise is to, "help others at all times," it was important to troop leaders, Mary Angelillo and Susan McDowell that their young scouts were able to truly experience the meaning of community service through their cookie-drive efforts.

The troop was connected with service members from the 366th Fighter Wing, Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, through Holly Brooker, whose daughter is in the troop and brother, Master Sgt. Kevin Mitchell, 366th FW advanced program logistics manager, is stationed at MHAFB. He connected the troop with members of his base who were deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

"We sent them cookies because they work really hard and they don't really get to eat much good, sweet stuff where they are," explained six-year-old Mckenzie Brooker.

Within weeks of mailing the cookie care packages, which also included hand-drawn pictures and notes from the girls, the emails and letters of appreciation from the deployed Airmen began arriving.

"We are sending a very warm and heartfelt thank you from Afghanistan," wrote Lt. Col. Christopher Sage, 389th Fighter Squadron commander, in a letter to the girls. "What a surprise and what a treat to receive all of the delicious cookies."

However, the most touching thank you came from Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Johnson, 366th Equipment Maintenance Squadron munitions materiel superintendent. In addition to sending some photos of the Airmen in his unit with their cookies, Johnson also sent the girl scouts an American flag that was flown in their honor, inside an F-15E Strike Eagle on a combat mission in Afghanistan. The flag was accompanied by a certificate signed by members of the aircrew and included interesting information about the mission.

"It was an incredible gift to receive," says Angelillo, who added, the flag is now a treasure of the troop and will accompany the girls as they move throughout their Girl Scout involvement throughout the years.

To help the girls understand the significance of the gift they were given, members of the Highland-based American Legion Post 193 visited with the troop at its last Girl Scout meeting.

Lenny Bellaccio, an Army World War II veteran and American Legion Post 193 commander, and Jim Kokoszynski, a major in the Marine Corps Reserve and an American Legion/Veterans of Foreign War member, led the girls in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and discussed the significance of this particular flag. Bellaccio taught the girls about the proper way to care for, display and respect the American flag.

Kokoszynski showed the girls a photo of the F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft and to help them understand how much a gesture as small as sending cookies is appreciated by the men and women who are so far away from their loved ones.

"It was a wonderful learning experience for our girls," said McDowell.
After the discussion, troop member Elise Herman gave Kokoszynski a picture of a flag she colored. She read him a message she wrote on her picture, "Thank you for coming. It was really important."

The Girl Scout organization has been showing their support and appreciation for the brave men and women of our military through participation in Operation Cookie Drop for 10 years.