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Marcus Havens (Photo courtesy: The Havens family)
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Calif. Student Rallies Elementary School in Support of Camp Leatherneck Troops

Friday, July 01, 2011

By Tom Sileo 

Eight-year-old Marcus Havens wasn't alive when the war in Afghanistan started.  Yet after the boy's 20-year-old brother, Josh, was deployed there, he asked his Murrieta, Calif., elementary school to rally around the cause of supporting our troops. 

Marcus and his five-year-old brother, Robert, started packing boxes full of Rice Krispie Treats® and Girl Scout cookies, which were later sent to men and women serving in Afghanistan.  Their parents, who paid for everything, say their sons truly care about brave troops like their big brother.

“Both boys are proud Americans in every sense of the meaning,” their mom, Dawn Havens, told the USO in an e-mail.

Timothy Kerr is Programs Director at USO Camp Leatherneck, located on a critical Marine Corps base in one of the most volatile areas of southern Afghanistan.  During a one-week period ending on June 30, the Department of Defense announced the deaths of six Marines and one airman in Helmand province, making Kerr's job of lifting the spirits of U.S. troops in a violent war zone even more critical.

“There is no greater pride, honor and job than working for the USO and being here doing whatever I can do to make these fine, brave men and women smile,” Kerr wrote in an early morning July 1 e-mail sent from USO Camp Leatherneck.  “[I want] to make them all feel at home, no matter what my sacrifices are.”

The troops go over the bounty of goodness from Marcus Havens and his Murrieta, Calif., elementary school. (Photo courtesy: The Havens family)While recently going through a care package brought into the USO center by a Marine who wanted to share its contents with his fellow troops, Kerr noticed an e-mail address included inside.  He wrote a message thanking Dawn Havens, who then asked if the warriors of USO Camp Leatherneck would like some Rice Krispie Treats® and Girl Scout Cookies.  At the time, Kerr didn't realize who was pulling the strings behind the scenes.

"Little did I know this whole project idea was done by her eight-year-old son," he explained.  "[He] got the whole elementary school involved in the project."

Overwhelmed by the boy's kindness in an area where American troops are sacrificing so much, Kerr wanted to say thanks.  He worked with the military to have an American flag, which flew on board a United States Air Force C-130 "Hercules" during an April 16 combat mission in the Afghan skies, flown all the way to California. 

The flag was then driven to Cole Canyon Elementary School, where young Marcus, his classmates and his little brother eagerly awaited “Old Glory” ’s arrival.

“I can honestly say our boys and their school never expected anything for their efforts in this project,” Havens said.  “Everyone involved merely did it as our appreciation of the sacrifices our military makes to keep us safe and free.”

The Camp Leatherneck flag, in transit to Calif. (Photo courtesy: The Havens family)When the flag was raised high above the school on May 26, emotions ran through the gathering of children and adults.     

“The cheers and hollers that erupted as the high school Marine Junior ROTC hoisted our country’s colors brought many of the faculty and parents to tears,” she said.  “The significance was profound.”

Thousands of miles away at USO Camp Leatherneck, Timothy Kerr could feel the patriotism.

“I thought it would be nice to somehow say thanks to this young man as well as his school,” he wrote.

Kerr, who deployed with the National Guard from March 2008 to August 2009 before originally going to work for the USO in Basra, Iraq, emphasized the importance of care packages for our troops.

“We try to work with those service members who are outside the wire and don’t have much at their forward operating bases,” he said.  “We just recently sent a TV, and some games, as well as some baby wipes to these [troops].

“A lot of them have nothing at all,” Kerr continued.  “Most sleep in sweat and wake up in sweat, and have to ration their water, so anything we can do to help these [troops] is an honor.”

Marcus Havens, his family and his classmates did something important for our men and women in uniform, as the retired American combat flag at Cole Canyon Elementary demonstrates.  As thousands of American warriors spend the holiday weekend apart from their families, you can help send a July 4th Care Package to our deployed troops.

Despite brutal, unrelenting heat and the raw, emotional pain of attending ceremonies for fallen heroes, there is no place on earth Timothy Kerr would rather be than USO Camp Leatherneck.

"I love this job," Kerr said.  "[Troops] ask me how long I'm going to be out here and I say: “ ’Til you all go home.’ "

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