Florida man is king of the care packages
January 07, 2007
Businessman mails 215 boxes a week to troops at combat-zone bases. The holiday season is over, but Bob Williams keeps on giving.
Coffee, cigars, hand-warmers, spotlights, chips, dip, Beanie Babies, switchblades, DVDs, squirt guns, red dot scopes, flannel pajamas, 24-inch TVs and millions of pens — Williams has gotten them all into to his Florida warehouse and mailed them out to military bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Qatar.
“If you’re in Kuwait, yeah, we’ll send you a box,” Williams said Thursday. “But it’s not like you’re 12 miles past the end of the earth. What we’re really looking for is guys past the end of the earth.”
Guys like a sergeant major at a camp training Afghan Army recruits in Khowst, Afghanistan, with 165 troops living in spartan conditions.
“We are located 17 kilometers west of [Forward Operating Base] Salerno,” the soldier wrote Williams in a thank you e-mail.
“It takes me 40 minutes to get there one way and requires a combat convoy. We do not have a store (or) a means to buy the items you have sent.… Our [Afghan army] friends enjoy the coffee … since all they (used to) drink is tea.”
Williams, 60, was a sailor in the 1960s. One of his motivations for sending packages to servicemembers is his memory. “I sure didn’t like the way we were treated when we got home,” he said.
His sons now handle the two successful businesses he once owned so he spends his time working for the troops. He sends about 215 boxes of stuff each week to some 200 combat-zone bases from his warehouse near Tampa.
He arrives at the warehouse at 3 a.m. most days to start reading his e-mails.
Who needs what? Who’s received what? Hand-warmers sent to the Bagram Air Base hospital were put where? (On the porta-potty seats.)
And what is this request for lawnmowers at Manas Air Base? He told the writer “I’ve been there. All you have is rocks,” Williams recalled.
His correspondent replied that grass had been put in at the local Kyrgyzstan orphanage.
“I said, ‘What happened to the goat?’ ” Williams continued. “They said, ‘It was a long winter. They got hungry.’ ”
The lawnmowers were shipped, as were boxes of cake mix for the orphans, along with the more usual items. That is if you call “The Official Story of the Bee Gees” and “Daytime’s Great Weddings” — just two of the many donated DVDs Williams has sent to Manas — usual.
Manas has received so much from Williams in the past few years that a base park was named after him. “If there’s anything we need in particular, if it’s within his power, he’ll send it,” said Chief Master Sgt. Phil Cherry, formerly command chief for the 376th Expeditionary Wing at Manas.
Cherry said that Williams has sent scores of baseball bats and gloves, several sets of golf clubs, a variety of games, grips to put on the soles of boots, tons of Starbucks coffee and an unending supply of popcorn and other snacks.
But while on a trip to the base last March — Williams flew commercially — he found it short of items he deemed essential.
During a base tour, he noticed the perimeter lacked spotlights. When he asked where they were, he says he was told there were none.
“I sent them 12 spotlights,” Williams said. “I mean, it’s absurd.”
He’s also sent red dot scopes, flashlights and knives. Does he ever think that the military should be providing these items?
“The military should provide a lot of things,” he said. “If you had to wait for your elected officials to give you your next breath, you’d be in a world of hurt.”
How much of his own money he’s spent is unclear. Williams credits numerous businesses, such as Starbucks and Bic, for continuous product contributions, and others who send monthly checks made out to the U.S. Postmaster to help defray the cost of some $8,000 a month in postage. Troops at some bases have saved the pogs they receive as change from Army and Air Force Exchange Service outlets, and used them to cover checks to help with expenses.
Reading e-mails provides Williams with great satisfaction, especially ones that say his gifts, such as pens or stuffed animals, have been given to children who then became good intelligence sources. One soldier told him that an Iraqi girl who received a Beanie Baby later kept Marines from driving over a roadside bomb.
“She saved the lives of six Marines,” Williams said. “Things like that you don’t think of. This means a lot to me.”
Williams said he would love to visit more bases, maybe on a military flight filled with troops. “I’d give my left arm to go,” he said.
In the meantime, Williams can be contacted at by anyone who wants to make a donation, or has a special w