50 years of care packs
Packed to the brim with tastes of home, such as Anzac biscuits, Jaffas, Minties, peanuts and Fruit Bon Bons, RSL care packs were first sent in the 1960s to boost the morale of Aussie troops serving in Vietnam.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the care-pack service on October 6, 2500 packages were assembled at Randwick Barracks, home of 39 Operational Support Battalion (OSB).
The packs will reach Defence members on overseas operations in time for Christmas.
Australian sports and entertainment stars, including Australian cricketer Josh Hazlewood, country singer Amber Lawrence and actor Rupert Raineri, joined 39OSB members in Sydney for the RSL-led milestone.
Commanding Officer (CO) 39OSB Lieutenant Colonel (Lt-Col) Kimberlea Juchniewicz says it was wonderful to host the 50th anniversary of preparing care packages for deployed troops.
“As the CO it is a fabulous feeling to be able to support the troops in this manner,” she says.
“We literally see the deploying soldiers, sailors and airmen and women from ‘go to whoa’ – we force prepare them, we get them overseas, and now we are able to sustain them with these care packs.
“The feedback we receive is great. We have now changed what we are packing for them based on what the troops are telling us. We’ve gone to a two-pack Anzac biscuit as opposed to the larger pack, which they tell us goes stale if not eaten right away.”
Helping prepare the care packs, Corporal (Cpl) Ashleigh Evans, of 39OSB, says he was fortunate enough to receive one during his deployment to the Middle East.
“It felt good to get one. Normally you get stuff from friends and family, but it feels nice and is a bit of a surprise to receive one from the RSL,” he says.
“To receive something from the public, who don’t have to send stuff but do anyway, feels amazing. Programs like this definitely boost the morale of the deployed troops.”
RSL National Deputy President Robert Dick says he feels honoured to hold a position that allows him to take part in days like this.
“The RSL Australian Forces Overseas Fund (AFOF) parcel wrapping and sending service began 50 years ago today and it’s a tradition the RSL, in conjunction with volunteers, have kept up over the years,” he says.
“I also feel humbled to meet volunteers who have been doing this for 10-15 years and all the service people and celebrities who offer their time to do this as well.
“It’s important the troops get that little bit of recognition while they are overseas and it is a little bit of Australia for them.”
CO Forces Entertainment Lt-Col Ian Robinson says the AFOF coordinates the preparation and delivery of about 5000 care packs, as well as several morale-boosting services, thanks to community support.
“We do this twice a year, usually around October and March,” he says.
“There are enough packs so every individual on operations around the world will get one.
“When this started during the Vietnam War, there wasn’t a formalised mail system in place, so these were a god-send when they were received.”
He says they encourage people to donate money to the RSL AFOF because that is the best way to get what the troops want to them.
“We aren’t constrained by the 2kg limits and the other logistics issues that are imposed,” he says. “For our serving men and women, this taste of home means so much, and continues to put smiles on the faces of our troops, particularly around Christmas.”
The care packs have collected a few passport stamps over the years, travelling to Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor, Cambodia, China, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Fiji, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Cyprus, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Mozambique, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Thailand, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Western Samoa.