It’s the single largest private donation ever received by USO Fort Campbell. And according to Center Director Kari Burgess-Brown, it’s also the most exuberant exchange she’s witnessed.
For months, Burgess-Brown exchanged emails and phone calls with a passionate veteran from the Dallas area who couldn’t wait to give back to troops at his old command in Kentucky.
A veteran of 101st Airborne Division, Jay Giglio served during Operation Desert Storm, and for more than 20 years he has been working hard so that one day he might have the means to return the favor he received from generous Americans.
“At first he told us he was going to collect some things from his friends and co-workers and mail them to us,” Burgess-Brown said. “But as the weeks went by, his emails got more and more enthusiastic about the contributions he continued to receive from his community.”
Between Jay, his wife Kerri, their co-workers, and his wife’s two grown children, the Giglios gathered so many supplies that an 11-hour road trip became necessary in order to get the haul to Kentucky. In total, they collected 18 copy paper boxes full of things like snacks, games and hygiene supplies.
“We looked at the road trip as an opportunity for both of us because this is something Jay has wanted to do for a really long time, and I really wanted to see where he received his training,” Kerri Wilson-Giglio said. “I wanted to see where he was made into the great man he is today.”
For Jay, the donation was a chance to pay it forward.
“When I was at war, I remember opening a care package from a random citizen,” he said. “This person didn’t know me from Adam. In fact, I think it was even addressed to ‘Any Soldier.’ But when I opened it up and saw the thoughtful things inside, it gave me an overwhelming feeling of pride for my country.
“It’s the little things. The little things meant everything to us out there. It’s those little reminders from home, those things you can’t put a finger on that just aren’t easy to come by out there. Some of the things I remember clearly, like bobby pins and hair ties for the female soldiers. I remember crafting some of these things by hand for them because products like these were rare. The females are overlooked sometimes, and we made sure to include that stuff in our donation.”
But to Giglio’s surprise, the biggest hit within his 18 boxes of donated supplies wasn’t the bobby pins.
“When we told our guys in the field about the details of what we had coming their way, we were surprised to find out the troops were most excited about the assortment of condiments,” Burgess-Brown said.
“We had all these packets of sauce from random restaurants like Taco Bell and Chick-fil-A in our refrigerator just taking up space,” Jay Giglio said. “It was really an afterthought when we tossed them in there, but it makes sense that they would be a big hit. After all, troops must get tired of flavoring MREs with Tabasco.”
Filled with the confidence and pride of knowing their contributions were well received, the Giglio family returned to Texas with the determination to return to USO Fort Campbell each year with even more supplies for the troops of the 101st Airborne.
“I always said I would if I could,” he said. “And now I can — so I am.”
To make a similar donation, contact your local USO center or visit www.uso.org/donate.