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CJ Rodriguez and Andrew LaFleur-JUMBO2
West Orange Times & Observer Thursday, Jul. 17, 2014 5 years ago

Freeze pops give soldiers refreshing sense of home

by: Shari Roach

Andrew LaFleur

Imagine being stuck in one of the hottest places on earth wearing a thick uniform while performing training drills, or just sitting and waiting for something to happen – always on edge to take action. These are the conditions the troops stationed in the Kuwaiti desert have to deal with, with temperatures easily reaching at least 125 degrees on most days. A freeze pop may seem like a simple luxury, but it means everything to these soldiers in the hot day’s sun.

Army Pfc. Andrew LaFleur, of Ocoee, is currently stationed at USO base Camp Buehring just outside Iraq and is scheduled to be there until January. His parents, Nancy and Ken LaFleur, have reached out to the community based on the camp’s idea to send freeze pops to the soldiers who are doing their best to endure the heat. Working incredibly long hours in such an austere environment is sure to take a toll, and anything that can help remind the servicemen and women of home, while also providing some much needed relief from the heat, goes a long way.

“I know they started to receive some freeze pops already, and they are posting [on Facebook] pictures of soldiers smiling and enjoying it,” Nancy LaFleur said. “It’s a touch of home that they wouldn’t be able to have otherwise, so it’s just nice to send them something that can bring a smile to their faces.”

For most of these troops, USO Camp Buehring is the last touch of home for a long time. Soldiers typically come to the camp in nine-month rotations before being deployed around the world – but the call to arms could happen at any time. In fact, because the base is so close to one of the most conflicted countries in the world, these troops have been called upon already. If a conflict were to arise somewhere in the region, the men and women stationed at the camp would be the first to respond.

“We wanted to use freeze pops for a few reasons, mostly because they’re inexpensive, they provide a cool treat on a hot day, and it’s something that we can give out over and over,” said Jason Lewis, program manager at USO Kuwait Camp Buehring and the brains behind the freeze pop initiative. “It’s almost unfathomable to think that the planet could reach such temperatures, but it’s a very real scenario here in Kuwait. The freeze pops are a welcome respite on an otherwise warm day, often without relief.”

In the summer, high winds are also a serious problem in the Kuwaiti desert, causing heavy dust to blow and create “massive, crippling sandstorms,” Lewis said. “It also gives us a hot blow dryer effect. Not fun!”

By the end of July, temperatures will reach their apex and remain in the hundreds until early October.

Although a cold treat is highly important, the soldiers are in need of other everyday items, as well. Inside the Camp Buehring center, there is an area where soldiers can pick up personal-hygiene items, food, socks and many other necessities – all from donations. However, the bins are currently almost empty.

“Of all the items that come in, drink mixes tend to be the most popular, followed by our freeze pops and any food items – no matter what it is,” Lewis said. “For a lot of our guys, the DFAC [Dining Facilities Administration Center] is the only place for them to eat, so snacks go quite the distance to help out between meals and during late shifts.”

Nancy LaFleur often sends care packages to her son and his friends at the base. One time, he specifically asked for Chips Ahoy cookies, Oreos and pistachios, she said. It’s those little indulgences people take for granted that the soldiers end up craving.

Sending gifts is not a one-way street, though. This year, Andrew LaFleur sent his mom a “Happy Mother’s Day!” greeting accompanied by a photo of a deceased camel in the desert – giving her a good laugh.

“I said, ‘I bet I’m the only mother who got a picture of a dead camel on Mother’s Day.’”

Support from local communities, not only from their families, means a lot to the soldiers. It lets them know that there are people out there who care about what they are doing, a comforting thought during the everyday hardships.

USO Camp Buehring usually has about 5,000 troops stationed there at a time, sometimes more. The facility is equipped with plenty of storage space and has the ability to hold thousands of freeze pops at a time, especially since they get eaten so quickly. To send donations, mail to USO Camp Buehring, APO AE 09330.

“Being deployed is a real challenge for everyone,” Lewis said.  “A lot of our soldiers have families of their own, sometimes even newborns at home, and they have to answer the call to arms to deploy around the globe. The act of sending something, even something as little as a freeze pop, helps our military bridge the gap with their loved ones and reminds them that they are sorely missed and thought of.”

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