What Comes Around, Goes Around (the world, sometimes)

When the 290th Military Police National Guard Unit out of Parkville, Maryland was "called up" to Afghanistan in June, they were each allowed to take 2 duffle bags and a personal bag. Specialist Chris Cary, from Germantown, Maryland had to prioritize, "That isn't a lot of space to fit everything you're gonna take with you for a year, but first thing I put an attack stick in each duffle bag and then I packed around them. The group arrived "in country" on August 4th and stayed in Uzbekistan for about a month waiting for deployment. "So for a month straight we had nothing to do but go to the gym and play lacrosse," says Cary. "I'd pull out my sticks and play with someone from my unit. And there were always new people that came out from other units having brought a stick from home too."

When Cary finally made it to Afghanistan, and regular duties began, one third of the group was always on the wall guarding the base and at least a third were usually sleeping after the previous shift. So he found himself alone doing wall drills mostly on a swimming pool wall. But even there he drew some attention. "The more I was out there, the more people saw lacrosse and wanted to learn. I had majors who used to play lacrosse when they were younger ask to play, and I had local nationals who work on our base sit and watch me bounce it off the wall and want to learn how to play too." Cary even taught some of his rugby mates from an international compound nearby. "I started having a big following of people who wanted to learn but only two sticks, so I sent out an e-mail to STX, after attending Gary Gait camps as a kid and always using STX sticks, asking if they perhaps had any used sticks so we could get a game together. A few days later, I got an e-mail back from Helen Marie Hahn. We e-mailed back and forth and on Christmas eve, which is also the half-way point of our deployment (only 6 months till we come home), a big box of brand new sticks arrived. It was awesome!"

On the job. Photo from 290th web site

Cary says that many of the people in his unit are spending Christmas away from new wives, or newborn children, or just families in general, and that he could tell a lot of them were glum, "but a gesture like this from STX shows that people care what we do over here and it made a lot of people smile. On Christmas some of the officers from the base worked point so we could eat Christmas dinner together as a Platoon. Right after dinner we grabbed our sticks and went outside to play. The majority of them said they never realized how much fun lacrosse was. Our squad leader even wants to start playing lacrosse for squad PT or Physical Training which is otherwise push-ups and sit-ups and 2 mile run. And now, this has gone past our platoon of MPs. Some officers, mail clerks and other soldiers who work here heard about the lacrosse sticks and are coming together to learn or to play some lacrosse. It's really made our Christmas. I think it's awesome that a Baltimore company did so much for the soldiers that come from the Baltimore area. Stuff like this is what makes it all worth it, seeing that people really care about us."

At Fort Dix, before deployment. Photo from 290th web site

And the 290th, which are supplemented by a unit from the Salisbury, MD 200th, are perhaps extra deserving of some holiday cheer this year. These are units that, within 24 hours of the September 11th attacks, along with the 115th MP Battalion were in place at the Pentagon providing force protection and crime scene security. Many members of the 290th are also veterans of the Persian Gulf War in 1990-1991 where they guarded 75,000 Iraqi prisoners of war in Saudi Arabia. But these are also units that, while deployed away from their families and friends in a remote and hard land, adopted a children's orphanage in the Kabul district of Afghanistan and then a second. The same Family Support Group that facilitated the delivery of STX's gift to the troops organized to supply toys, clothing and blankets once they'd heard of the extreme need of the children at the orphanage north of Kabul and have since sent over 100 boxes. In a recent defense department web site article, 1st Sgt. Aaron Henderson, who administers "Operation Sandbox" as the soldiers call it, was excited about the side-project. "The children's faces light up when they see us coming" and Captain Robert Estes, commander of the 290th encouraged more donations saying, "Whenever we have a truck full we bring it to the orphanage." So the Family Support Group, made up of family members of the deployed soldiers of the 290th is still seeking donation for the orphanage and you can get involved. Send donations of warm children's clothing, socks, blankets, soft and safe toys, picture books, crayons and coloring books, hard candy, cookies and other "care package" food items, bottled water, and, of course, lacrosse sticks, mini sticks and balls to:

Operation Sandbox
Attn: 1st Sgt Aaron Henderson
290th MPCO
Camp Phoenix, APO-AE-09356

You will be very surprised at how little shipping costs because it goes to a local base and then via military post. Medium boxes should cost about ten dollars. Monetary donations via check made out to 290th Family Readiness Support Group can be sent to:

290th Family Readiness Support Group
Kabul Orphanage Fund
Care of Ellen L. Perry
22 St. Elmo Court, Apt. X2
Cockeysville, MD 21030