I served as a Sergeant in the Marine Corps infantry 2nd Battalion 5th Marines, from June 2000 through June 2004. I was deployed twice during my enlistment. My second deployment was to Iraq in Feb 2003. During this time the war had not started yet, and I was living in a fighting hole with one other guy on the border of Kuwait and Iraq. We spent one month in our holes before heading north to secure the country. We spent the next two months moving through the country and each day digging and sleeping in another hole.
By the time the war was declared over I was in Tarmiyah on the north end of Iraq; we then got orders to move back into Baghdad for the second time. We ended up setting up camp at the University of Baghdad. This is where I received my first care package and my first letter from back home. In the care package was fresh socks, beef jerky, baby wipes, Purell detergent tablets and some spice mix. I can't even put into words how grateful I was to receive this package.
For the last few months I had spent every day in my uniform with a chemical suit on. It was like wearing a snow suit in the desert. To top it off we had been wearing rubber boots over our combat boots. I had not showered and the last meal I received had been two weeks prior. The beef jerky was the first thing to go followed by a baby wipe bath, fresh socks and it was off to find something I could clean my uniform in with my new purell tablets. I felt like a new man!
The smell of detergent reminded me of home and became my constant reminder of who I was fighting for. I had received two letters that day as well, one from my mom and the other from my fiancé. Letters from home were like gold over there; just a taste of home. When you didn't receive one there was always someone willing to let you read theirs. In the end we all realized the importance of family, community and friendship. Our needs were very basic and something as simple as a letter, a newspaper or some baby wipes from back home could turn any day into Christmas.
SGT Jake Kennel
United States Marine Corps