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To Any Soldier With Love

Volunteers at Mount Vernon restaurant pack Christmas boxes for soldiers in Iraq.

On Saturday morning, Chad McGrirr, 13, and Nick Walker, 12, were sitting across from one another with a stack of Christmas cards on the table between them. “Have a magical Christmas and hope you are safely able to get home,” Nick wrote in one card, before sticking it in an envelope and adding it to the stack by his left hand. Each envelope was blank. Chad and Nick had no idea who would be receiving their messages.

Any Soldier, Inc. is a non-profit organization that began three years ago when an infantry soldier from La Plata, Md. began receiving packages addressed to him but labeled “ATTN: Any Soldier.” He gave them to soldiers whose names never appeared on the letters and packages that arrived for his unit. The ad hoc effort has expanded. Now more than 4,000 soldiers are distributing more than 100,000 packages to soldiers who otherwise would be receiving no mail at all.

Since the beginning of the month, Northern Virginia restaurants of the chain Moe’s Southwest Grill have been collecting donations to send through Any Soldier. On Saturday, Chad and Nick were two of the volunteers at the Moe’s in Mount Vernon Plaza who came to help box up books, magazines, toiletries and snacks to send to soldiers in time for Christmas. Nick’s father, Steve Walker, the manager of the restaurant, said they would be shipping off about 120 boxes of items donated by Moe’s customers. “It’s just important to let the soldiers know they’re not forgotten and that we do care about them,” he said.

From the restaurant’s counter, he took a printed e-mail glued to a piece of construction paper. “I was in Baghdad for 18 months in the red zone, where we were fired upon, mortared, RPGed and our welcoming party was within the first three minutes we were in Iraq by insurgents with an IED. (Only one severely injured.) I saw what a package for some of those soldiers meant; the world, and it kept them going for another day when they thought they couldn’t make it through one more. It’s a crazy world over there and little things that come from America mean a million times more. A lot of soldiers feel they have been forgotten over there, and it does their heart wonders to know someone cares about them. I ask God to watch over the troops every day, as well as bless those who give to others with love and kindness.”

Mount Vernon High School senior Leianah Haimananchandra said that although some items like lip balm and granola bars were hard to get in Iraq, “it’s not the actual presents you get. Its something that counts that will help you out more.”

“It just means that people care. Everyone’s trying to make the best of things. We help them out because they’re trying to help us in the first place.”

Haimananchandra said she plans to join the ROTC when she goes to college next year, then enlist in the Navy or the Marines after she graduates. She is currently in the JROTC, an experience “that gives you personality and a lot of self-confidence.”

JK Moving and Storage partnered with Moe’s to ship the packages. Three JK employees were busy all morning taping up the shoebox-sized packages and loading them onto a moving truck with a dolly.

“It made me feel good,” said the driver, Luis Ordonez. “I feel like I’m helping somebody.”