Red, White and Blue “Thank You”

District Outreach

American Flag.

It flew with the troops fighting in Iraq. Now it serves as a big “thank you” to staff at the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Bartow Service Office for their generosity.

Staff Sergeant Anthony Pieske presented an American flag to the Bartow employees while on leave from the 332nd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron. Anthony’s wife, Samantha, is a field technician in Bartow. The Bartow Service Office serves residents in Polk, Hardee, and Highlands counties.

Staff at the Bartow Service Office sent care packages to the troops in the Persian Gulf before and during Operation Freedom.

Anthony said when the first three care packages arrived, his helicopter group delivered the goodies to members of the 101st Airborne who had been over there for at least seven months. They did not have access to supply stations, so the packages were well received. “Some guys even had tears in their eyes because they were so overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers,” said Anthony.

The packages were sent to Anthony because he and his helicopter crew were able to distribute the care packages to soldiers in the field not able to get supplies or soldiers who did not have anyone to send them items from home when they flew to different bases.

At the beginning of April, Pieske received an e-mail from her husband with a photo of the fight crew holding a “thanks for your support” sign. In the photo, they are also holding an American flag, which is the flag they gave to the Bartow staffers when Samantha’s husband returned to the states on leave in late April.

“Receiving the flag gave us a great sense of pride in our troops,” said Larry Wood, one of Samantha’s fellow field technicians. Staffers also received a presentation folder with information about the 332nd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, and a signed photo from the members of the helicopter crew.

The idea to send care packages to the troops was hatched during a Field Services meeting when Pieske’s co-workers asked about her husband, who was serving as a helicopter gunner. Samantha mentioned that she was mailing him packages of personal care items because the base where he was stationed was extremely overcrowded and supplies were limited. In fact, Anthony told Samantha that the shelves in the commissary emptied as fast as they were re-supplied.

Larry suggested they begin collecting items to send overseas to the troops. “After hearing the plight of the troops in Kuwait, I felt that it was something that needed to be done,” said Larry.

Larry and Samantha set up a donation box in the office, and Bartow staffers responded by bringing in enough supplies to fill 11 boxes. The boxes were about 35 pounds each, which was as large as they were allowed to send. A typical package included things like toothbrushes and toothpaste, deodorant, soap, shampoo, razors, floss, powder, lotion and Q-tips. Bartow staffers also added snacks like pretzels and hard candies, and packed it all in newspaper so the troops could keep up with current events.

Besides donating supplies, staffers also opened their wallets. Shipping the packages to Kuwait cost more than a dollar a pound. “The actual cost in implementing this project was considerably more than what we anticipated,” said Samantha.

“Throughout the project, staff would stop by our offices to make monetary contributions to ensure the packages could be sent out on a regular basis,” said Larry. Samantha and Larry said the generous donations from fellow employees in the Bartow Service Office and even some from the Brooksville Office was surprising and wonderful. “Some individuals we know who have limited resources went above and beyond with their involvement through contributions,” said Samantha.