By Ethan Fletcher
It was supposed to be a short-term project.
To earn his Eagle Scout badge, Lafayette resident Justin Batcheller decided to send care packages to local soldiers deployed in war zones. Two years later, his project has morphed into Operation Lamorinda Soldier, a nonprofit for which he is the executive director.
“I’m able to interact with these soldiers who are doing something that I could never do. There’s no way I could go over to Iraq or Afghanistan and risk my life day after day after day,” says the 17-year-old Campolindo High senior and member of Troop 204. “This lets me understand just how real it is.”
Postal and military red tape meant that Batcheller could spend up to two hours at the post office for each overseas shipment, sending more than 500 packages. That doesn’t include gathering the supplies, including new socks for soldiers, toys for Iraqi children, and sweatshirts and shorts for Iraqi postsurgery trauma victims.
Still, the effort has been worth it, says Batcheller, who has developed a deep respect for the soldiers he has helped. Soldiers such as Campolindo grad Ben Grover, an Army Ranger who served as a captain in an infantry division in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Lt. Commander Dr. Jeffrey McClellen, who worked at a trauma unit near Fallujah.
Community response to Batcheller’s program has been enthusiastic, even in an area known for Lafayette’s war memorial of white crosses. “Whether they say this war is wrong or right, everyone seems to be able to get behind the idea of helping out these soldiers,” he says. Most would agree that he has provided an invaluable service.
“I think the biggest thing for me personally, and my own mental sanity with all the stuff that was going on, was the connection with people from back home,” says Capt. Grover. “It keeps you grounded, keeps you going strong.”
Published: Diablo, December 2008
Author Bio: Ethan Fletcher is the assistant editor of Diablo magazine.