POSTED: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - 8:36am
UPDATED: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - 1:25pm
MCALLEN — Mikal Powers knew he wanted to join the military since he was a little kid.
"Early on it was really my dad who instilled military and serving our country," said Powers.
So he joined the Navy after high school, just before his 18th birthday. Powers wanted to explore the world and learn how to become the man his father wanted him to be.
"I think he wanted me to serve and complete the dream that he always had," said Powers.
Powers went to bootcamp and attended rescue swimmer's school in Pensacola. There, he learned multiples roles teaching him vital skills.
"Gunner, a rescue swimmer, anti-submarine warfare and crew chief operator," said Powers.
He deployed for the first time in 2001….just before September.
"We were actually approaching the Persian Gulf when September 11th happened," said Powers.
He remembers it vividly…
"I remember coming in from a flight and seeing on TV the towers being hit. I remember thinking and asking to myself you know what movie is this and of course it wasn't a movie, it was the terrorist attack," said Powers.
Within a couple of hours all outgoing information was cut off. Powers says it was an extremely tough time for his unit.
"Just the fact of not knowing where we're going or who really attacked us we felt a sense of responsibility that we were going to be the go-to people to help carry out a mission first. Being the Navy we're usually one of the first on scene. We always have an aircraft carrier deployed. So, we were that aircraft carrier at that time," said Powers.
They were at sea for 114 days. Powers and his crew would remain at sea for the rest of the year.
"It was the longest period any ship any aircraft carrier for that matter had been out to sea without pulling in," said Powers.
During the first couple of months troops could no longer receive care packages.
"It does decrease moral when you don't hear from family and loved ones because you realize that back home life is still going on without you so then it makes you wonder a little bit. So when you receive the care package it's the biggest lift you could ever imagine," said Powers.
Simple items like a snickers bar or a deck of cards may not seem like much to you and me, but to a soldier they symbolize a piece of home.
Getting a care package coming home from a mission it just like takes you away for a moment and makes you forget where you're at," said Army Sgt. David Facundo.
And that's why Operation Interdependence was founded in 2001. It's become one of the fastest growing volunteer organizations in the US. Valley IBC Banks along with other groups have teamed up with O.I. for the last 6 years.
"It's the best feeling you could receive when you open up a letter from a 7-year-old kid that has already learned the values of serving in the military," said Powers.
Powers is talking about children like little Salma, who was one of more than 200 people who attended the packing party in McAllen.
"I feel glad I'm volunteering for all these projects because I really want to help out a soldier with what they need and I wanna help them out because they've been helping us out," said little Salma Cervantes.
Mostly words of endearment are included…
"Without you, we wouldn't have the freedom we enjoy today," said one volunteer.
"I think it's very vital that we reach out to them, especially through the letters, because it's what they need. They need that reinforcement, encouragement and comfort to keep going every day," said Jacqueline Vela.
It's the letters the soldiers love most of all.
"They carry them in their pocket so when they're all alone or out in the field they get a chance to look at the letter and that brings them home," said Dora Brown with IBC Bank.
Sending each quart sized care package costs less than a stamp. Volunteers bagged 10,000 care packages which filled 150 boxes.
"This is a record for us. I am just so excited about it," said Brown.
Each year, the participation grows.
"We got more supplies, we got more money and we got over $11,000 dollars this year, last year we got $4,000," said Brown.
This year's contribution will be shipped to Houston where it will be received by a platoon of servicemen and women within a couple of weeks.
"Sending a little bit of hope and inspiration in the form of Cracker Jacks, granola bars and gum," said Powers.
Now, instead of diving in to save people's lives, Powers is jumping at the opportunity to help his fellow comrads.
Sending a message to our troops overseas that are still serving that they're still in our thoughts, they're still in our prayers. We think about them and we wish and hope for them a safe return," said Powers.
If you would like to get involved with sending our troops care packages, you can visit www.oidelivers.org .