Volunteer project focuses on future vets

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 12, 2007

Today America honors the more than 24 million veterans who have served our country, but one local group of patriots is working to support some of our nation’s future veterans.

The holidays may still be a few weeks away, but the local chapter of the Marine Corps Family Support Community is sponsoring “Operation Fill A Stocking.”

Christmas packages will be sent to Tri-State servicemen and women, from all branches of the military, currently serving overseas in the Middle East.

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“Our mission is to provide support to United States Marines and their families through multiple activities and opportunities,” said Mary Jo Vermilyea, president of the local chapter. “And also to provide support to all active duty military through care packages, letter writing and any other forms of support for those deployed in the nation’s service.”

But don’t let the name fool you. The organization is interested in far more than just supporting the Marine Corps. In fact, the volunteers plan to send packages to as many soldiers from the Tri-State as they can from all branches of service.

“Our military men and women are sacrificing so much to keep us safe, they will be spending the holidays away from their loved ones,” she said. “I believe that it is important not to forget them. I have been involved with this support group for over three years and I know from the letters of thanks that I have received, that it is very appreciated.”

Mary Jo has a very personal connection to this project. Her son, Cpl. James Hopper, joined the Marines a few years after he graduated from Ironton High School in 2001, so she knows firsthand what support means to our soldiers.

“Jimmy spent Christmas 2005 in Iraq. He missed the birth of his daughter. The baby was 4 months old before he ever held her,” she said. “That year, I had just started our local group and supplied Christmas packages for his entire platoon.”

“Last year, our group was a little bigger and we adopted the platoon of an Ashland Marine, Ryan Howe.

Ryan was just deployed again and will be spending the holidays in Iraq for the second year in a row.

Our group has grown and instead of adopting a platoon this year we have decided to send to all local troops.”

The organization needs community help to make sure that a small piece of the holidays make it overseas. Christmas in the desert may not ever be like home, but it can still be something special.

The group will be collecting items for the care packages as well as monetary donations to help pay for shipping costs.

If anyone has a loved one serving overseas and would like them to receive a package, they can call or e-mail the information to Vermilyea.

Those who would like to lend a hand can mail donations to: MCFSC-Tri-State Chapter c/o Mary Jo Vermilyea, 1540 Florence Ave; Ironton, OH


To have items picked up, call (740) 532-5741 or (606) 615-0684. E-mail is mcfsc_tristate@yahoo.com.

Like nearly all others whose lives have been personally affected by the ongoing War on Terror, Vermilyea insists that the focus should be on support not politics.

“Regardless of our political views, we need to show our support of the troops,” she said.

Last year, more than 50 soldiers had at least a small reminder of home and the group hopes to repeat that same success.

On a day set aside to honor our veterans, we must all take a few moments to do so. But we must also not forget about all those who will someday be considered veterans.

Patriotism is more than just flying a flag. It is more than saying the Pledge. It is more than simple rhetoric.

Today is the perfect time to start making a difference.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Ironton Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at mike.caldwell@irontontribune.com.