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Anne Turnbull, far left, of the Family Support Center, and volunteers Marci Angelella, center, and Erin Cabot, stand next to dozens of cookie trays ready to be packaged during the annual holiday Cookie Caper on Monday morning at Misawa Air Base, Japan.
Anne Turnbull, far left, of the Family Support Center, and volunteers Marci Angelella, center, and Erin Cabot, stand next to dozens of cookie trays ready to be packaged during the annual holiday Cookie Caper on Monday morning at Misawa Air Base, Japan. (Jennifer H. Svan)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — It’s a dentist’s nightmare and the stuff of Cookie Monster’s dreams: Gobs of sugar, chocolate, peanut butter; crispy, chewy, gooey cookies and candy.

Volunteers showed up at the main base chapel bright and early Monday to start packaging thousands of cookies and candy for the annual holiday Cookie Caper.

They could admire the dozens of homemade varieties, but eating one wasn’t a perk.

The lucky recipients of the work of some of Misawa’s best bakers are single and unaccompanied personnel.

The Cookie Caper is a longstanding Misawa tradition.

“This is my 10th year,” said Anne Turnbull, Family Support Center community readiness technician. “We arrived here in ’95 and it had already been going on for a number of years.”

One theory floating about the sweet-smelling chapel room Monday was the effort originated as cookies left secretly on the doorstep to single and unaccompanied servicemembers — hence it was called a caper.

Now first sergeants — or Navy and Army equivalents — deliver cookies in person to their troops in the dorm rooms and work centers.

It’s one of several base efforts to support military personnel spending the holiday away from their families, said volunteer Beth Missel, Enlisted Community Organization adviser and wife of 35th Fighter Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Missel.

“Anytime we can support our unaccompanied troops … and get them started off right, it’s a good thing,” she said. “Some of these young kids are spending their first Christmas away from home.”

Organizers this year include the Family Support Center, American Red Cross, Misawa Officers Spouses Club and Enlisted Community Organization. The Defense Commissary Agency donated refreshments for volunteers and Styrofoam cookie trays.

Starting in early November, a message is sent to all base units asking for a single or unaccompanied headcount. As of Monday, an estimated 1,117 cookie trays — with six to seven cookies each — were needed. Do the math: That’s more than 6,000 cookies.

The official cookie donation pledges from Misawa residents cover about a third of that need, Turnbull said, but she’s not losing sleep over it.

“We’ve always had enough,” she said. “I think it’s been going on for so long that people who have been here know it’s coming up.”

The rest of the cookies typically come from individuals who don’t sign up ahead of time and drop off small batches of cookies during the two days of cookie-tray assembling, Turnbull said.

Tech. Sgt. Timothy Coffey delivered four dozen chocolate chip cookies Monday morning “because I know what it’s like to be a single airman. The care packages help morale, help them feel they’re not so alone.”

Chocolate chip was a popular flavor.

“It’s easy and I’ve been making them so long, I don’t have to look at the recipe,” said Miriam Blake, who baked a batch Sunday with her 10-year-old daughter. While dropping her cookies off Monday, she admired the more unusual varieties — small muffin-shaped goodies stuffed with chocolate candy and one best described as an Italian mini-waffle with a pretty design.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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