Group Surprises Soldier With Keys to Jeep

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17, 2007 - Thousands of servicemembers get care packages with surprises in them every day, thanks to caring folks back home. Some of the surprises, however, are bigger than others.

Operation Gratitude, a nonprofit troop-support group, celebrated the packing of its 250,000th care package by teaming with Tri-State Jeep Dealers Association to put Army Spc. Alfonso Sanchez in the driver's seat of a 2007 Jeep Patriot Limited.

"We were thrilled to give a Jeep Patriot to a true American patriot," said Carolyn Blashek, Operation Gratitude's founder. "It is an honor to be able to recognize him and, through him, all servicemembers in uniform."

Operation Gratitude is a supporter of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.

Sanchez, who received the package containing keys to the Jeep on July 24, is assigned to the 16th Military Police Brigade, which is serving in Iraq. He will receive the actual vehicle upon his redeployment to the states, hopefully by the end of the year, Blashek said.

Not expecting any packages, Sanchez didn't initially respond when his name was called.

"When they called my name, I was shocked, stunned, and I froze for a second, double-checking that my last name was Sanchez," he said. "The first thing I saw when I opened the box was a Jeep brochure, but they give those at the post exchange.

"I expected anything else but this vehicle," he said. "I don't have enough words, but with all my heart, thank you (Operation Gratitude) for all you do."

The package also contained a letter from Blashek explaining how her group was able to provide such a special "goodie" in their milestone package.

Sanchez won't be the only one who will receive a Jeep Patriot vehicle, however. Jeep, Major League Baseball's New York Mets and a New York television station launched a letter-writing campaign July 15. Letters of support for the troops will be accepted until Sept. 17, when one lucky letter writer letter will be randomly chosen to receive a Jeep Patriot. That person's letter will then be sent to Sanchez, as well. The winner of the letter-writing campaign will be announced during a Sept. 30 pre-game ceremony at Shea Stadium in Queens, N.Y., Blashek said.

"We are proud and humbled to contribute to a great organization like Operation Gratitude that does so much good in support of our troops," Eric Neilsen, president of the New York Dealer Association, said. "The Jeep was originally developed to serve our military, and we are very pleased to be able to continue this tradition in a small way."

(Army Spc. Beatrice Florescu contributed to this report.)
America Supports You: Group Surprises Soldier With Keys to Jeep [ ]