Last spring, Alan Dukor had just dropped off 75 letters and two care packages for U.S. troops at the post office when he stopped in his tracks.
“I felt an unbelievable feeling of doing what I could do,” Dukor, 19, says. “A lot of people want to help the troops but don’t know how. So why don’t I organize them?”
As luck would have it, Dukor was blessed with friends and a logistical frame of mind.
He was joined by roommate Andy Smith, 20, and University of Texas fraternity brother Jacob Guss, 19. All three had converged on Austin to study at the McCombs School of Business, so they were not without some executive and marketing skills.
They planned to launch package-prep charity, Caring for Camo, in January 2013.
“My goal was 300 Facebook ‘likes’ by the end of the spring semester,” Dukor says. “It’s unreal. We reached almost 600 in the first three weeks.”
The UT outfit has already spawned student groups at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Florida International University. Chapters are in the works at the University of Miami, University of Florida and University of Illinois.
Yet their biggest “get” was recruiting an older UT student, Nate Boyer, 32, a staff sergeant in the Army Special Forces — now with the Texas National Guard — who plays the long-snapper position with the Longhorns football team.
Dukor, an equipment manager for the team, approached Boyer during practice for the Alamo Bowl.
“I didn’t know Alan that well,” Boyer admits. “And I didn’t know he was such a strong supporter of military and had such a heart for service members.”
Boyer could tell Dukor was serious.
“I remember getting care packages from total strangers when I was Iraq,” says Boyer, who has been profiled in this newspaper’s Sports section. “Even old magazines that people already read. It was great, for instance, to catch up on sports. Little things like beef jerky that you don’t get out there and you take for granted. A lot of people supported me in that way. The right thing to do is reciprocate.”
Reasons for caring
Different circumstances motivated the Caring for Camo foursome.
Wisconsin-born, Florida-raised Smith’s grandfather, who passed away last year, served in Vietnam and several other family members were attached to the military.
“Everybody wants to support the troops,” wide-eyed, open-grinned Smith says. “I knew from Alan’s personality that he’d see this through.”
Guss, the son of Southern California dentists, had wanted to help since 9/11.
“It was the most memorable thing in my childhood,” says soft-spoken Guss. “Mom was crying at the TV. But I was proud of the way America responded. It reminded me why we love America.”
Dukor, his pal in the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, seemed to offer an answer.
“I hadn’t heard anyone else do anything like this,” he says of Caring for Camo. Guss worked on the website, PayPal account and graphics. “At first we had a Longhorn image, but we can’t use that, so we came up with something new,” he says.
“I was told that the chances of approval of using the UT logo were about the same as UT football winning the 2012 football championship,” Dukor jokes.
Chicago-and-Palm-Beach-bred Dukor’s parents were Russian Jews who came over during a wave of emigration in 1980.
“From Day 1, my parents instilled in me that freedom wasn’t free,” says Dukor, wiry and intense. “We should cherish that freedom and ask who pays the price.”
For his part, Tennessee-born Boyer, who carries himself with a brawny but benign gruffness that could serve him well in any field, worked with 12-member Special Forces teams after joining the Army in 2004. He served in Iraq, Israel, Bulgaria and at various American bases.
Boyer could have attended college anywhere, but he says the G.I. Bill benefits are best in Texas. Playing on Mack Brown’s Horns, albeit in a small role, was just a bonus.
He liked the Caring for Camo slogan: “Be a Hero, Help a Hero.”
Boyer and his younger friends encourage their new followers to write letters to the troops (“We can never have enough letters. It is the No. 1 most requested item.”), donate financially so they can buy and ship goods and to donate magazines, snacks, videos, CDs. Check on what’s needed at the Caring for Camo Facebook page or by emailing CaringForCamo@gmail.com.
Why have these guys been so successful, so quickly when students back in my day would be lucky to organize a bake sale?
“If we didn’t have Facebook, about 15 people would know about us,” Smith laughs. “Social media is the multiplier.”