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‘The Best Christmas Gift’: Donor Couple Makes a Difference for Troops in Afghanistan

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

By Eric Brandner 

Sometimes giving is the best present.

Former Air Force Maj. Lee Carrick and his wife, Suzanne, know what it’s like to move around during a military career. But when they saw the deployment tempo and conditions troops were facing during the wars in the Middle East, they wanted to do something to help.

“We both just came on USO as a long-term, nonpolitical organization that was really reaching out and touching the troops directly and around the world,” said Lee Carrick, a senior vice president at defense contractor Leidos.

At Suzanne’s behest, the Carricks began making significant donations to the USO by mail. Then, when USO representatives contacted them, the couple found more nuanced and personal ways to help.

While discussing specific donation opportunities at the USO’s offices in Arlington, Va., the Carricks were drawn to Forward Operating Base Shindand, a remote U.S. base near Afghanistan’s border with Iran.

“Lee and I looked at each other and I think we knew immediately,” Suzanne Carrick said. “We went with Shindand and it’s been a blast. We call them ‘our kids’ because we feel like they’re family.”

While the Carricks initially donated money to the USO cause, they started assembling care packages at their Virginia home and sending them downrange to USO Forward Operating Base Shindand. The Carricks get frequent email updates from USO FOB Shindand center manager Frank Stinson, who lets interested donors know what the troops at the remote base near the Iranian border need.

“A lot of them are small requests,” Lee said. “They need deodorant. They need toothpaste. And what we really like is we just say: ‘What is it they really need?’ And Suzanne goes out and boxes it up and takes it to UPS. And you just know that it’s really making a difference.”

And the pictures are the payoff.

The Carricks became ardent followers of USO FOB Shindand’s Facebook page, where gifts from donors around the world – from cookies and toiletries to the new 3D television the Carricks gave the center last year – are chronicled almost daily.

“We look every day on that Facebook page,” Lee said. “It just makes you feel so good that, no matter what you see on the news, that there’s so many Americans who really do appreciate [their service]. And they’re doing it because they care, not because anyone told them to do it.

“No matter what kind of bad day I’m having, I can look at the Shindand page and just smile.”

That sentiment was underlined during the 2012 holidays, when the couple made a significant contribution to the annual USO Christmas Convoy. The Carricks’ significant financial donation to the convoy brought cheer not just to the troops at Shindand, but to men and women stationed at even smaller, remote combat outposts across Afghanistan who don’t have the luxury of a local USO center.

“The pictures we got back, I’m about to choke up now just thinking about these guys and gals out there with nothing,” Suzanne said. “And to get excited about getting cans of Monster drink is just amazing.

“We got pictures of them with the helicopters delivering stuff, and that was the best Christmas gift we could have ever gotten.”

“Just to see the smiles in these pictures – that’s what just amazes me: how resilient these young people are in these really awful situations,” Lee said. “You never really see a picture of anybody in a USO tent who isn’t happy.”

Photo caption: Lee and Suzanne Carrick have made significant donations to support both USO Shindand in Afghanistan and the USO Christmas Convoy. (Photo courtesy of the Carrick family)  

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