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Couple's care packages show troops they're appreciated

By Ross Levitt, CNN
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Couple send care packages to troops
  • John and Wendy Rocca send care packages to make life easier for troops overseas
  • They started the program seven years ago; have shipped 30,000 pounds since then
  • Helped by volunteers, they send things like peanut butter, toilet paper, hand-warmers
  • Every package includes a thank-you note; the troops return the thanks

Watertown, Massachusetts (CNN) -- It's an idea that haunts and motivates John and Wendy Rocca -- a soldier in need.

The Massachusetts couple are committed to a simple, yet challenging, mission: to make sure active-duty service personnel never leave mail call empty-handed.

"It's unforgivable that they're not getting anything. We're all sleeping peaceful here every night, going about our business," Wendy Rocca says.

She and her husband work year-round sending care packages to bases on the other side of the world. They call the project Operation American Soldier.

It began seven years ago when daughter Tracy was on active duty in Iraq. She called home to say she wasn't getting the supplies she needed from the military commissary.

John Rocca says he and his wife sent Tracy $800 worth of supplies. "We just put it into the biggest box we could find, took it to the post office, and it cost me almost that much to ship it," he recalled.

After receiving the shipment, Tracy told them some of her fellow soldiers didn't have any support from their families. It broke the Roccas' hearts. And they took action.

They started by sending a few packages to soldiers in Tracy's unit. Soldiers began to refer other soldiers. What started as a small project in their living room has expanded to the local Marine Club, where they and a team of volunteers recently set up shop, packing more than 200 boxes sent to arrive in time for Christmas. But this doesn't just happen during the holidays. The Roccas send these packages throughout the year.

Seven years after they began, the Roccas say they've sent packages to more than 2,000 soldiers. Many receive more than one package during their deployment. More than 30,000 pounds of toilet paper, hand-warmers, peanut butter, and countless other items have been shipped.

Yet it's a small item at the top of the box that the Rocca say is most important -- a thank-you note. Every package gets one. Some soldiers tell the Roccas they carry those notes with them for weeks while on duty.

The thanks go both ways. The Roccas have binders full of thank-you notes from grateful soldiers as well as several flags that have flown in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Their son, Sgt. Tony Rocca, who is currently serving in Iraq, told CNN via Skype, "I don't know how they do it. They just do it. It's such a great thing. My friends come up to me and say, 'Hey, I know you gave your parents my name, thank you. Tell them I said thank you.'"

Another son, Army Spc. Nick Rocca, just returned from active duty. He says, "It puts smiles on people's face in kind of a smileless environment."

John Rocca says the only soldier Operation American Soldier ever lost died five years ago. They got the news on Christmas day. "It makes you appreciate what you have. It truly does," John says. They think he died just before the package arrived.

Wendy Rocca says the idea that a soldier fighting in extreme conditions would feel unsupported is "unforgivable." Still, it won't be easy to keep up their current pace, sending 200 boxes per month.

But Wendy says, "We can do it, and we will do it."

For the Roccas, there's no other choice.