By Mary Kennedy
Since Veteran's Day was this week, I'd like run a piece I wrote for Publisher's Weekly.
I'd never met Lt. Col. Lisa Schieferstein, yet I was intrigued by her story.
I knew Lisa was half a world away, doing a tough job in a gritty, remote location. As the garrison commander of the 389th "Renegades" division in Iraq, she was stationed at a desert outpost, with 90 soldiers under her command. The heat was appalling, the conditions were rugged, and danger was ever present.
Even though my life is incredibly cushy by comparison (a nice psychology practice in Delaware, a second career as a mystery novelist), when I saw a photo of Lisa—in full body armor—visiting a one-room Iraqi schoolhouse to bring books to the children, I knew right away we had something in common: a love of books.
We began to e-mail each other, and I got a glimpse of her day-to-day life. When I learned that the 389th was a sustainment division, offering food and snacks to American convoys passing through, I decided to send boxes of books and homemade goodies every two weeks.
Then Carolyn Hart, author of 44 mysteries, heard about the project and made an interesting offer: "Let me send 20 pounds of coffee, snacks, and books to celebrate the publication of Laughed 'Til He Died. It's the 20th release in my Death on Demand series, and this would be a nice way to commemorate the event."
But it didn't stop there. We received such a positive response from the Renegades that we kept going. We had to—the soldiers said they loved these boxes from home.
Bestselling author Caridad Pineiro, who writes paranormal romance and romantic suspense novels, said to me, "As an immigrant to this country, I value the liberties in America every day. I try to regularly help our soldiers as they protect our nation. Whether it's sending books, candy, or basic necessities, I know those small things mean the world to them."
Other writers heard about the project and joined us. Kate Collins, J.B. Stanley, Julie Hyzy, Beth Ciotta, and Robin Burcell are just a few writers who donated autographed books and food. Jill Cesa-Teneyck, Lisa's best friend, insisted on sending a dozen copies of my own mystery, Dead Air, to the Renegades.
In the end, we sent more than 200 pounds of home-baked sweets and books to Iraq. I sent some healthy choices (like tuna fish and salted nuts) but the hands-down favorite was my home-made Kahlua brownies. (I'll be glad to share the recipe if anyone wants it, just message me on FB) A baked "pecan and cereal squares" snack was another popular item. It's like a sweet version of Chex Mix with corn syrup and nuts and both these treats travel well.
What did the military think about the project? Kim Adams, SOS Military Liaison and an Air Force spouse in Honolulu, said, "As a veteran of the first Gulf War, I know firsthand what difference mail makes to deployed personnel.... But that war was short-term, and our troops came home. Today, our military personnel are facing longer and repeated deployments. While e-mail and Skype are available, nothing can replace the warmth of a personal letter, the excitement of a care package, and the thrill of receiving books hand-selected by readers who support our deployed personnel."
As Janet Evanovich told me, "If Stephanie Plum could meet the Renegades, she'd give them a high-five and say, 'Well done!'"
I wish everyone reading this piece could adopt a soldier and send books, candy, snacks, and, sure, homemade cookies or brownies. It's easy to do and it really means the world to our brave men and women in the military forces.