Far ahead of holidays, boxes packed for deployed Alaska troops

Soldiers with the Army’s 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) 25th Infantry Division at a deployment ceremony at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Sept. 8th, 2017 (Photo: Zachariah Hughes – Alaska Public Media)

Though the holidays are still a long way off, a few civilian elves in Anchorage are already busy assembling presents for soldiers deployed overseas. With thousands of Alaska-based troops stationed in Afghanistan, organizations are rushing to get everything from board games to beef jerky boxed and sent abroad ASAP.

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The Armed Services YMCA of Alaska has been in the state since the 1940s, and part of its mission is filling in gaps left between the military and service members. For example, holiday cheer.

“Anything from home that just sparks a little bit of joy in your heart gives them relief,” Sarah Riffer explained. She’s the executive director of ASYMCA Alaska, which runs programs to support service-members and their families. That includes Operation Frosty Warrior, an annual effort to fill boxes ahead of the holidays with supplies that can be hard to come by while troops are deployed.

“Playing cards, travel board games, anything like that,” Riffer added. “Books.”

For soldiers based in Alaska, many of whom have family members living here, tokens of home can be a boost, according to Riffer. That might include hometown newspapers, smoked salmon, and jerky.

Riffer’s organization partners with BP to collect money and supplies. Boxes have to be packed and palatalized before November 22nd in order to make it to their final destinations around the globe. In a given year, around 1,000 Alaska soldiers are deployed overseas. But this year, with the 4th Brigade Combat Team 25th Infantry Division from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on a combat deployment in Afghanistan, that number is significantly higher — 3,100 this year.

“This is the largest deployment in the seven years that this program has been going on, which is why we’re reaching out to the community because we really need everyone’s help,” Riffer said.

ASYMCA in Alaska is collecting money, or will pick up boxes and supplies from individuals and participating organizations. You can find details and a wishlist on the Alaska Armed Services YMCA’s website.