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Boxes send love and memories overseas

Remembering those who fight for freedom is one way Gardiner Community Church members practice their beliefs.

For more than a year, the congregation has been making care packages for tactical air controllers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The quarterly tradition began shortly after church Pastor Greg Austin presided at the final service for Master Sgt. Scott McDaniel, an Air Force tactical air control patrolman.

McDaniel died of an accident following a tour of duty in Iraq in 2007. He left behind a wife, two sons, his father, mother and a sister. Austin befriended the family while preparing for the service and wanted to continue to honor McDaniel.

Tactical air control patrolmen and patrolwomen - TACPs -- advise ground commanders on the best use of air power, such as pinpointing precise places for air attacks. Other tactical airmen serving in the Middle East contacted Austin shortly after the service, requesting care packages.

Austin brought the idea to the church's Women of Faith ministry group. They decided to take on the project and they dedicate each box in McDaniel's memory, inserting his photo and a letter detailing the story.

The church held its first "Boxing Day" on Jan. 26, 2008, and shipped 19 boxes overseas. Last year, the church sent 106 boxes.

On Feb. 21, the group prepared and sent 32 boxes to three USAF tactical units and one Canadian unit.

"This is the largest shipment we've had," said Mary Beth Brown, event coordinator.

Boxes typically hold baked goods, snacks and personal items, plus popcorn to pack the contents.

McDaniel's father, Chief Master Sgt. (retired) Tom McDaniel, and sister Diana Druschba came to Boxing Day to help.

"It is pretty impressive," Druschba said.

Tom McDaniel and his wife, Laura, have come to the event before. "I get pretty emotional," Tom said about when he attends the event.

Church members Ted and Sharon Mata have a son, T.J. Mata, who is a specialist in the National Guard, serving his third tour in the Middle East. He will receive a box, too.

Every time a Boxing Day has approached, the church has received donations to cover the cost of the contents and shipping. The packages are sent in military authorized bulk rate boxes, which saves on shipping costs. McDaniel's family established a fund at a credit union near McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma that also helps offset costs.

"He was very much a people person, so he would have loved this," Tom said about Scott.

At the church's Sunday service, Austin and servicemen prayed over the boxes for the safety of the troops.

Gardiner Community Church has 65 members. Its Sunday services start at 10:30 a.m. at 1040 Old Gardiner Road, east of Sequim.



Boxing Day details

Who: Gardiner Community Church, 1040 Old Gardiner Road, Gardiner.

What: "Boxing Day"

Church members make care packages for troops in the Middle East in honor of fallen Tactical Air Control patrolman Scott McDaniel. They filled and sent 106 boxes in 2008.

When: One Saturday every three months.



Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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