By Greg Russell
Brandi Jackson has never met John Cody Guidry, doesn’t have any idea where in the
world he might be, but the University of Memphis freshman has already formed a bond
with him that will likely last a lifetime.
“I have become really close to him,” says Jackson.
“She is my connection to the outside world,” says Guidry.
U of M freshman Brandi Jackson, an ROTC cadet, organizes a local chapter of the Soldier’s
Angels organization that supports U.S. troops, their families, wounded soliders and
Guidry is a 22-year-old private first class in the Army, deployed overseas at an undisclosed
but likely dangerous location; Jackson is a first-year ROTC Army cadet at the U of
M looking to establish a long-term military career.
Jackson is coordinating a local chapter of the nation-wide Soldier’s Angels program
that provides support services to deployed and wounded soldiers, their families, veterans
— and a branch of the military many wouldn’t think about: canines. She has “adopted”
several soldiers and dogs on her own, sending them letters on a daily basis as well
as care packages. She is bent on building local support for the organization.
Talking to the two, it is impossible to know who feels who is helping the other most
in a friendship that began in September.
“Knowing that what he is doing is being appreciated means so much to him. It makes
him feel like he is doing the right thing,” says Jackson, a criminal justice major
from Atoka, Tenn. “After 9/11, there was so much interest in the war, but over the
years, that has faded. You don’t read as much about Afghanistan in the media. Sometimes
it is like our soldiers are forgotten.
“But they are still deploying them all the time and they are still risking their lives
for us. They also feel some isolation, cut off from the outside world. Even if their
families are writing to them, too, it helps when others write or send them care packages.
Knowing that I am helping them by putting a smile on their faces melts my heart.”
The Associated Press reported in mid-January that there were 349 self-inflicted deaths
among soldiers last year in Afghanistan, a 16 percent increase from 2011. Statistics
reveal that organizations such as Soldier’s Angels can have a dramatic, positive impact
on military personnel.
John Cody Guidry (lower right) and two Army buddies on delpoyement at a classified
“To know there are people back in the States wanting to support my platoon and me
is a great feeling,” says Guidry. “Care packages are like an early Christmas present
you weren’t expecting to get — they are definitely a morale booster. Being able to
get small leisure items such as snacks, movies and even hygiene products can make
the day much easier. Coming from a random person, that makes your time a little less
stressful and a little more hopeful that things will be OK and you will go home safe.”
Jackson’s interest in the military started at age 8. Her grandfather was also in the
“I always wanted to drive Army tanks,” she recalls with a grin. “My mom even has me
on video when I was really young saying that.”
She has become a major supporter of Soldier’s Angels, which was started as a non-profit
in 2003 by Patti Patton-Bader whose son, Brandon Varn, was deployed to Iraq in early
2003. Varn let his mom know that other soldiers weren’t receiving care packages as
he was from her, so out of concern for them, Patton-Bader started the organization.
Jackson is hoping to get those on campus and in the Memphis community, including churches
and school children, involved by “adopting” soldiers or by helping prepare care packages,
which she would mail herself. For U of M employees wanting to drop off letters or
care packages for the troops, a donation box will be set up in the Army ROTC room
in Hayden Hall on campus. Individuals wanting to receive letters in return from soldiers
should include their own contact information within the letters/packages.
Jackson says signing up is quite simple.
“You visit the Soldier’s Angels website (http://www.soldiersangels.org/) and are asked to make a small donation, even as small as a dollar, which goes to
supporting the military families.”
From there, those signing up can volunteer for a number of teams and project options
that include “letter writing,” “care packages” and “K-9 support” — the site lists
dozens of possibilities. Jackson says services also support returning soldiers and
their families, such as helping with expenses when a family member travels overseas
to visit a wounded soldier.
Help provided can be as diverse as sending military dogs bones or toys, or sending
food products to military chefs.
“The military dogs, when they are off duty, they like to play, too. And I also had
a request from a chef whose unit had run out of many food preparation items.”
Jackson says as part of the letter writing team, she receives new names of soldiers
on a weekly basis.
“That is exciting because you never know which branch of the military they will be
from or what their requests will be.”
Common items sent in care packages include toiletries, mini-fans, electronic hand
held games, playing cards, books, Frisbees, phone cards and food items such as beef
jerky, candy and instant oatmeal. Jackson says a request from Guidry was for her to
send a CD of recent popular music.
With the recent increase in suicide numbers coupled with the length of deployments,
Jackson says it is an important time to help military personnel.
“Guidry has written me and told me how cold it is there, that he is ready to come
home. They just want someone to talk to.
“During the recent holidays, there was an increase in support and people signing up,
but that has begun to wane, too. Signing up as a volunteer is a good way to help support
those who are defending our freedom.”
Says Guidry, “Receiving a warm blanket or your favorite candy can make you feel a
little closer to home. It can be a quick pick-me-up or a long lasting morale booster.”
The Soldier’s Angels website says there are 207 “heroes” waiting for adoption.
Contact Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org visit http://soldiersangels.org/ for more details.