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When Justin Jones was deployed with the 101st Airborne Division to Afghanistan nine months ago, he didn’t expect to receive his first care package within two weeks from a total stranger.

“There are a lot of people who send care packages,” Jones said. “There are not many who send out personalized individual packages and then keep sending them out.”

During the nine months Jones was deployed, he received eight care packages from the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons alone.

“That’s the one thing a lot of guys look forward to,” Jones said. “Someone took time out of their day to write a name and address and send something over. I needed to come by and thank the person who is responsible for sending them out.”

Meeting Justin, along with his wife, Emily, and 10-month-old son, Misha, for the first time, Sherry Reid, the volunteer and events coordinator at the Calvert Marine Museum and coordinator of the packages, had tears in her eyes Friday as she said it amazed her that “[Justin] wants to thank us.”

“It’s us that should be thanking them,” she said in an earlier interview. “They’re sacrificing so much.”

Reid said her father, John Dunagan, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II as a mechanic aboard a ship.

“I believe on two or three different occasions, they were bombed,” she said. “My dad never talked too much about it.”

He died about 24 years ago and, Reid said, she’s become a lifetime member of Veterans of Foreign Wars because of his service. “It just means a lot to me.”

Every time she makes a care package and sends it overseas, Reid said she’s “absolutely” thinking of her father.

Reid and her team of volunteers and staff assemble care packages every month at the museum to send to local friends and family deployed overseas.

This project started with two packages in 2009 and has increased every year. Last year, Reid said, the team sent 68 packages. Reid receives names and addresses from those in the community and adds them to a list of soldiers to whom she sends packages. Usually, Reid will send one round of packages full of baby wipes, toothbrushes and toothpaste, foot powder, drink mixes and snacks. Some months, donations will come from organizations or the museum’s board of governors and Reid will send another round right away so the soldiers can receive more items.

“It’s like putting a puzzle together,” she said. “Every little nook and cranny is covered so we can get as much in those boxes as possible.” As a bonus, Reid said, they don’t use foam packing peanuts. “We use candy.”

Tootsie Rolls, Tootsie Pops and starlight mints are sprinkled throughout the packages, as a sweet way to keep other contents intact. Each box is a large, flat priority mail box and costs $14.85 to mail, she said. The big item for the past few months, Reid said, has been Girl Scout cookies.

“Some months we’ve sent as many as 15 [individual packages] in one month, during the holidays when we had our biggest list,” Reid said. “We sent everybody two or three packages that month.”

Jones said his favorite item to receive in the packages is any kind of snack food because the types of food and drinks soldiers have access to is limited. As an infantryman, he spent days hiking along orange and brown mountains he described as some 8,000 feet above sea level.

“When we would come back, we would have a couple of packages and hers were always there,” Jones said.

“I was getting a lot of big care packages from the museum and we divide them up between me and the rest of the guys,” Jones said. “They usually didn’t get a lot of packages, especially towards the end, so it’s nice to divvy up the items between the guys.”

Justin’s wife, Emily, said she’s grateful knowing care packages were sent to her husband while he was so far away from home. Justin’s deployment “was probably one of the hardest things I have gone through.” And, she said, she also sent care packages that, for some reason, didn’t make it to her husband — a problem others have expressed. But Reid’s did make it, Emily said. “I know it really does help them cope and just know that people care.”

This month, Jones is one of two local soldiers who have returned home to the area.

“It doesn’t bother me when the number [of packages sent] dwindles because soldiers come home,” Reid said. “But I know it will go up again.”

Jones, 21, is originally from St. Mary’s County and graduated from Leonardtown High School. He is stationed in Kentucky and lives in Tennessee with his wife and son. Jones returned home to Tennessee on May 25 and arrived in Maryland last week. Jones said he plans to relax and spend time with family in the area until July 14, when the Joneses will go back to Tennessee. Next June, he is scheduled to be deployed back overseas.

snewman@somdnews.com