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A Watertown-Based Group is Sending a Piece of Home to Troops Serving Overseas

Operation American Soldier started in the basement of a Wendy and John Rocca's Watertown home and now ships hundreds of care packages, boxed up at the Charle Shutt Detachment.

Every couple weeks, the basement of the Marine Corps League’s on Mt. Auburn Street fills with people filling cardboard boxes with snacks, books and toiletries to send to the men and women serving their country as members of the U.S. military.

Know as Operation American Soldier, the effort, which is the brainchild of Watertown couple John and Wendy Rocca, has provided more than 53,000 lbs. of care packages to the troops.

On a recent evening, Watertown’s Ellen Kiley prepared dozens of boxes to be filled, while volunteers scoured the shelves for items they think the soldier, Marine, sailor or airman who gets the box will enjoy.

The bounty is topped off by a greeting card, handwritten by the person who filled the box and personally addressed to the serviceman or woman.

Finding the Troops

Some of the troops getting the care packages are family members of the volunteers, such as Marlo Strong, of Malden, whose husband Timothy is a private first class in an Army National Guard unit out of Middleton that is now in Afghanistan.

“When I heard about this place, I said I had to be there,” Strong said. “I don’t mind coming over here from Malden – not at all.”

Most, however, come through the website set up by the Roccas. The names and addresses are compiled by volunteers like Natalie Colella, Judy Brooks, Rochelle Sacco.

When the boxes are filled they are driven over to the Belmont Post Office, which has welcomed the Roccas' shipments.

“They are great,” Wendy said. “They even come and help me unload.”

The Beginnings

The Roccas learned of the need for care packages from their daughter Tracy when she was deployed to Iraq in 2003. They sent packages to her, but they soon realized not everyone was as lucky.

“Over the course of a few months we learned that there were a few soldiers in her group that weren’t getting anything from home,” Wendy said. “That was the birth of Operation American Soldier.”

Operation American Soldier has not gone unnoticed. The Roccas, who are real estate agents in Watertown, were honored by the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors and the National Association of Realtors. They received the Good Neighbor Award.

The couple decided to do something to provide a piece of home to those who weren’t getting any packages. It started with the couple packing up boxes in their basement. Eventually, they found the need was so great that their Watertown home could not handle the effort.

A New Home Base

Dominic Ricci, the former commandant of the Shutt Detachment, said he welcomed Operation American Soldier when the Roccas were looking for a new base of operations.

“We welcomed them because they are such a good cause,” Ricci said.

They found a room at the Shutt Detachment, but it needed some work, said Dave Brooks, a member of the Detachment. It has been a storage area for all sorts of junk, and the walls were stained, grey and unfinished.

“We took eight pick-up loads of trash away, and my sons came down and helped me stud the walls,” Brooks said.

The room now has bright white walls, large sets of shelves and recently a dehumidifying system was installed. The next project, Brooks said, is installing an air conditioner.

Brooks gladly lent his services to helping Operation American Soldier. He served in Vietnam and knows what the troops are going through.

“When I was in Vietnam we didn’t get many packages,” Brooks said. “Getting mail and packages gives (the troops) the feeling that people care about them.”

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