AL ASAD, Iraq -- For many of the deployed service members, the holiday seasons pass by without them ever noticing. Every day is a routine groundhogs day, and they are always focused on their job, mission and safety.
This celebrated season, however, became renown by the Marines and service members with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 16, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), as three large and separate communities each adopted the unit for the holidays.
"Three states contributed," said Maj. Tom Lenhardt, operations officer, MALS-16. "Each state had a single person organizing hundreds in their communities to provide us with Christmas gifts. They wanted to adopt MALS and provide us with a 'Christmas party.'"
The three areas to contribute to the logistics unit were Hendersonville, N.C., Memphis, Tenn., and Crystal Lake, Ill., but it wasn't narrowed down to just those three areas. Several of the surrounding communities and towns of these areas helped support the troops of MALS-16 this holiday season, too.
"It was the largest giving project I've seen," said Lenhardt, a 38-year-old Mesa, Ariz., native. "The presents filled a 40-foot container. There were enough gifts for each person to have three presents -- two boxes and a stocking. There are close to 600 people in the MALS. Just to give you an idea of how many gifts there were, it took 30 Marines to organize the giveaway."
The service members received numerous care packages through their deployment. However, it was through the efforts of Mary Moltmann of Crystal Lake, Ill., Becky Butler of Memphis, Tenn., and Shanna Lanning of Hendersonville, N.C., that they were able to receive so many donations for the holidays.
Although the Marines who received these special supporters' gifts are far from home and from being able to thank them in person, they were allowed to enjoy themselves and have sent many, many thank you letters to the communities who helped them.
"The magnitude of what these people did for us is just extreme," said Navy Lt. Dan Hall, chaplain, MALS-16, and a Memphis, Tenn., native. "For the Marines here, this made Christmas one of their happiest days. We made it into a very big morale-building event. The (commanding officer) and (sergeant major) came out as Santa Claus, and the staff noncommissioned officers and officers were their reindeer."
For the service members with MALS-16, this holiday season was made possible by the tremendous and noble efforts and generosity from the folks in the United States, and they wish for nothing more than to be able to thank everyone who lent a hand.
"It was outstanding and very generous," said Cpl. Scott E. Tremayne, flight equipment technician, MALS-16, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 165 (Reinforced), 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), and a 21-year-old native of Upland, Calif. "I'm very grateful for the people back home to send all of this stuff for us. They are the ones we do this for. They are the fuel for our fire. We wouldn't be here without them. They keep our hopes alive and our will to keep going strong."