Bess Kline displays some of the items she sends to the troops in Iraq. (Staff photo: David Irvin)
By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
Foot powder, eye drops, soap, sunscreen, candy — so goes Bess Kline’s shopping list.
It is somewhat unusual because it is intended for a group of soldiers, stationed outside of Baghdad, of which Kline’s son was once a part. Although he is now home, and settled in Dallas, Kline hasn’t forgotten about the soldiers left behind.
She regularly sends the troops packages, sometimes filled with cookies, sometimes filled with toiletries, and on one Christmas — filled with Santa hats and stockings.
“During Christmas time last year, my son said a lot of guys in the unit were walking around (wearing) the Santa hats I sent them. They were so proud to have gotten something in the mail. And then other units started wondering why their troops didn’t get any hats. That just lifted my spirits,” said the Clovis military mom and wife. Her voice is laden with emotion and tears quickly rise to her eyes when she speaks of the time her son spent in Iraq.
“My son said ‘mama, you don’t know what’s it’s like to get a package from home.’ It just boosts morale among the troops so much, that’s why I do it,” said Kline, a recent recipient of the Elks Distinguished Citizenship Award.
Kline, also a National Military Family Association volunteer, has spent more than $1,000 sending packages overseas in the last two years. She has even enlisted the help of fellow members of the Clovis-Portales Elks Lodge 1244.
“She had this idea to send stockings to the troops in Iraq,” said Lodge 1244 Secretary Raynette Baker, “and she said she was going to do it anyway, and if anyone wanted to help they could. So different members bought toiletries and candy to put in the stockings and we sent about 50 of them — it was all her initiative.”
Years ago, her husband was sent to Vietnam. He told her then how much her letters meant to him. Some soldiers, she says, may never admit to the importance of correspondence because they need to project a “machismo” image. Yet others, she says, are from poor families who don’t have the means to keep in touch with their loved ones deployed overseas.
She isn’t the only one who recognizes the income barrier.
For soldiers in Iraq, sending a letter to the states is free. Tom Udall, D-N.M., wants to make that a two-way street. He and 72 others have co-sponsored a bill that would provide free mailing privileges for personal correspondence and parcels sent by family members from within the United States to members of the Armed Forces serving on active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Many military families tell me that it’s becoming too expensive for them to send regular care packages to their loved ones overseas. This legislation will remove a sometimes cost-prohibitive barrier and allow our soldiers to stay in touch with their loved ones easier,” Udall said in an office press release.
The bill faces Government Reform Committee review in September, according to Udall spokesperson Glen Loveland.
Kline, however, said she will continue to send packages to troops on a regular basis, regardless of whether the free postage bill is passed or not.
It is a service that she feels she owes to her country and its troops.
“The troops sent me over a tape to thank me for all the good we were doing, by sending stuff over there,” she said.
“But I want to thank them for all the good they are doing. I have never seen any of their faces, but they help me sleep at night.”