Jackson County Troop Link is a group that reaches out to deployed troops by providing them with care packages from home while they are in active combat zones. In 2004, Barb Strickland began coordinating the Jackson County Troop Link when her son was deployed overseas in the military. She was at a loss as to where to turn to provide support for his troop; as well as, support for herself as a military mom. With the help of her mother and sister, Barb decided to start coordinating a group of other military mom’s and families, who were proud of their military sons and daughters, by creating care packages to send to their loved ones deployed in combat zones.

Over 14 years later, this group has sent more than 2,000 “Support Our Troops” care packages to loved ones deployed overseas in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Kosovo, and Africa. In 2018 alone, 79 packages have been sent to local troops in combat zones. Not only do these packages go to our local troops, but also to any troop or military service member with a connection to a local troop. Military service members that have buddies who are not receiving mail or gifts from home are able to write to the Jackson County Troop Link and provide the name and address of the buddy and in turn, a care packages will be sent to them as well. Troops will continue to receive care packages each month they are actively deployed in a combat zone. This can be anywhere from three to fifteen months.

Many different items are included in the care packages. Meals in microwavable bowls, chips, cookies, magazines, toiletries; such as, baby wipes, deodorant, etc. are included. WV Gold Star Mothers donate cases of Girl Scout cookies and Troop Link purchases cases of Mister Bee potato chips to include each year. Another addition to the care packages is a newsletter with information about those who made donations and have supported the mission. They also include bible verses and the occasional military joke to provide some much needed humor. Some of the wives and mothers include letters or notes to their loved ones. Troops are also able to request specific items as the need arises.

Local schools have shown support over the years. Ripley Elementary School students have sent hand-made thank you cards to be included in the care packages. The school’s PATCH program, in the past, has made cards for the care packages for every season. They also tracked on a map in the classroom where each package was delivered to at home and overseas. Lori Mahan, a teacher at Ripley Elementary stated, “The kids really enjoy making cards for the troops. They take pride in acknowledging what the service men and women have done for not only the country, but for them as well.”

These care packages mean a lot to the troops who receive them. Army veteran, Joshua Rhodes, enjoyed getting baby wipes. He stated, “Being clean goes a long way for happiness!” Troy Bain, a veteran with the Army and WV Air National Guard, remembers receiving care packages while he was in Kosovo in 2004 and Afghanistan in 2009. Troy stated, “They would send Mister Bee, Sour Cream and Onion chips, my favorite, and beef jerky. Local items like the Mister Bees potato chips could take you back to fond memories from home.” Local veteran, Bill Stewart served in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and was a US Navy Seabee. His area of responsibility was called the triangle of death and his mission was to gather construction material to build hardened facilities in Ramadi, Iraq. He had to travel roads with IED’s and small arms fire to return to the base that was receiving daily rocket and mortar attacks. Bill stated, “It was always a great morale boost to return after being on the road, sometimes weeks at a time, to find a package had arrived from Jackson County Troop Link. It’s such a different world over there that you feel disconnected from folks back home, but these care packages really helped to bridge that gap. The fact in the back of your mind was always that you might not get back home again so it was nice to feel that connection.”

According to Barb, without the community involvement in this mission, it would not be possible. Many churches have donated money to assist with the shipping costs. If you or your local organization would like to donate items or make monetary donations to assist with shipping costs, please contact Barb at 304-372-6806.

Care packages are prepared the second Monday of each month. To find a list of items needed or to learn more about the Jackson County Troop Link, log on to their Facebook page at Jackson County Troop Link or contact Barb Strickland at 304-372-6806. Donations can also be dropped off at either Jackson County Public Library location in Ripley or Ravenswood. As Barb stated, “It’s not about us. It is about our troops and morale is the greatest gift our troops can receive.”