European Spotlight: Retired Air Force senior master sergeant Robert Bonaparte
Day job: As the director of human resources for U.S. Army Garrison Schinnen-Netherlands, Bonaparte began an effort to collect European goodies for specialty care packages for U.S. servicemembers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
From what you’ve heard, are troops downrange getting enough mail and packages?
They get the basics, but some soldiers don’t get much.
When you were in Vietnam, did you receive any packages?
From my wife, but not from any organization or anything, no.
Do you remember what was in her packages?
It was always Dutch items. When I came to Holland for R&R, I loaded up a suitcase with stuff to take back (to Vietnam) to share. Unfortunately, my suitcase got lost, never recovered. I had all sorts of Dutch goodies in there. You share with your fellow soldiers or airmen.
What items do you want for the care package program you launched?
We sit in a tri-border area, Germany, Belgium and Netherlands. We know most of the deployed soldiers are from units based in Germany, so we’ll include German items like Leberkuchen. Capt. Jonathan Beck (a soldier in Afghanistan who inspired the drive) is crazy about Dutch Stroopwafles. I want to send Belgian chocolates, but we don’t know how that would go. We are afraid they would melt. But we’re not turning anything away. We hope donors give items with a European flavor.
You spent a tour in Vietnam, 1971-72. What are your recollections of the Christmas you spent far from home?
I tried not to think of Christmas. I was stationed in Da Nang and we got (attacked by) rockets every night. To dwell on home was not good. There was no sense in getting depressed. I developed a close bond with a few of my fellow airmen and that was my extended family.
Your drive has collected how much so far?
I was supposed to go around to some donation points this week, but I haven’t had the time. We got a couple of bags yesterday. I’ll swing by the commissary and ACS (Army Community Serve) today to see what is there. Once this program gets up and running if these soldiers think of something European they want, I’m going to try and get it for them, though nothing overly expensive. We want the donation drive to go beyond the holidays.
Care packages are also going to troops in Iraq?
Yes. Our primary point of contact is deploying to Iraq next month. This program is not just for folks who are or were assigned to Schinnen.
Job: Retired Air Force senior master sergeant
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