Life for modern soldiers is very different than it was for Vietnam veteran Bob Franklin.

Life for modern soldiers is very different than it was for Vietnam veteran Bob Franklin.

“They are under constant threat,” he said. “In a secure area, they’re not secure.”

Franklin said modern solders have no down time to recover from stressful experiences and regain focus on their duties, and that can prove fatal.

“You have to be focused 100 percent of the time,” he said. “If you’re a little bit depressed, that takes away your focus.”

Franklin, who served as a fire-control technician in the U.S. Navy, spoke to a crowd of volunteers Oct. 27 at Elks Lodge 391, 73 N. Third St. in Newark. The volunteers gather the fourth Thursday of each month to assemble care packages for military personnel as part of the Support Our Soldiers Now program, which is headed by county residents Darlene Turner and Renee Firestone.

“This really means a lot to our soldiers,” Turner said.

The program began June 2010 as a result of a text from Turner’s daughter, Natasha Wortman, a Black Hawk helicopter pilot serving in Afghanistan.

“She texted me, ‘Can you send me more toilet paper?’” Turner said.

She said soldiers run out of basic supplies more often than people think. Turner and her friend, Firestone, began assembling care packages for Wortman and mailing them to her.

They were unaware of how many soldiers receive nothing at all from home until Wortman began asking for more packages that she could share with her unit. Turner said her daughter started sending other soldiers’ names home and a few care packages became a lot more packages.

“It kept growing and was 40 boxes sent at Christmas, and then it ballooned to 87 boxes,” Turner said.

As the project continued to gain momentum, the Elks donated storage space and a large room where volunteers assemble stacks of care packages to be shipped overseas. Turner said Support Our Soldiers Now has 45 volunteers who regularly meet to assemble the packages.

“It’s because I want to help the soldiers,” Newark resident and volunteer Myra Smith said. “I just want to help them all.”

Smith said she used to donate only money to the organization, but decided the cause was important enough to donate her time, as well, even though she has no immediate family members in the military.

“This is my first night, but I’m coming every month,” said Smith. “I can’t think of a better cause.”

Turner said her team sends emails and personal requests to area businesses to donate supplies for the care packages. She also speaks to private groups and churches, and coordinates fundraisers to help pay for postage, which can cost up to $1,300 per shipment.

Turner said she has no military or government connections and the U.S. Postal Service ships all the care packages. She said the Vineyard Grace Fellowship church near Heath donates money for postage and anyone can donate $15 per package as part of the organization’s “Buy a Box” program. Turner’s goal is to find 12 churches, each willing to donate one month’s postage.

She said each package contains personal-care items, including various toiletries, snack items, a magazine and a personalized card.

“We try to put in something uplifting,” she said.

Turner said seemingly simple things like Crystal Light powdered beverage mixes are popular with soldiers and in short supply. The Crystal Light, for example, is appreciated because by the time soldiers receive bottled water, it usually develops a stale, metallic taste, which the beverage mix masks. Soldiers may request supplies that can reasonably fit in the package and survive the journey without breaking.

Turner said she hears from soldiers who have little or no contact from family or friends.

“Some of the letters from the soldiers are heart-wrenching,” she said. “This is a human being fighting for our freedom and they’re hurting for a human connection.”

Franklin said the packages can help military personnel avoid feelings of depression and distractions from their duties, all of which can be life-threatening.

“When you get something from home, it lifts your morale, it deals with that intangible,” he said. “These packages do more than make them feel good for a while. These packages save lives.”