BAGHDAD (4/30/2011) - The cookies brought smiles, but it was the letter that produced the tears.
For members of the United States Forces – Iraq, public affairs section, care packages are nothing new. Always deeply appreciated, they come from a variety of different sources - family members, charitable organizations and even a group of ladies from Florida who have sent homemade snacks for as long as anyone in the section can remember.
But the box that arrived at Al Faw palace on March 4 was different. Inside were boxes of Girl Scout cookies. And a handwritten note.
Hi, my name is Mackenzie Frost. I am a second grader at Hawthorne Elementary School. I am also a Girl Scout in Troop No. 2653. This year is my first year as a Girl Scout. I came up with a great idea to collect boxes of Girl Scout cookies to send to you guys because my Dad was a soldier just like you, but he died in Iraq 3 years ago. My Daddy really loved Girl Scout cookies. I went door to door selling Girl Scout cookies. I got people to donate these cookies for you all to enjoy. I thought this was a great way to remember my Dad, Staff Sgt. Christopher Frost, USAF.
Love, Mackenzie Frost.”
Staff Sergeant Frost of Waukesha, Wisconsin died March 3, 2008 near Bayji, Iraq in a crash of an Iraqi Army Mi-17 helicopter.
Assigned to the 377th Air Base Wing, he was a public affairs specialist working for Multi-National Security Command–Iraq. Mackenzie was five years old.
The gesture and letter deeply touched the public affairs service members.
“Mackenzie's thoughtful and unselfish attitude are simply amazing to me,” said Col. Kevin V. Arata, Chief, J9 strategic communications, “It shows how one person, when they put their mind to it, can make a big difference and contribute so much to others.”
“That someone who has lost so much is thinking of others like she did, is indicative of someone with a warm, caring heart, who really knows what it means to be kind to others,” Arata continued. “Mackenzie is certainly upholding the Girl Scout motto of serving God and country and helping people at all times.”
The next day, more boxes arrived. Then even more. The stream became a torrent and then a flood. Stacks of cookie boxes appeared on tables throughout the palace. They didn't stay there long.
All told, there would be 762 boxes.
Mackenzie's letter immediately was posted on the section's bulletin board, and collectively they decided something had to be done to recognize the little girl's efforts.
“We kept thinking that people were just happening to send all these cookies from different places at one time,” Arata said. “Then we saw copies of Mackenzie's letter in each of the boxes and we figured it out - she had put together this “campaign” to send cookies to Iraq, en masse, and we were the lucky recipients. That's when we knew we had to do something to say thank you, and Operation Mackenzie was born.”
It would eventually span two continents over nine time zones and involve active Army and Air Force service members, the Wisconsin National Guard (WING), the Air Force Reserve and Hawthorne Elementary School – all working to give something back.
The coincidences were staggering. Lt. Gen. Frank G. Helmick, the USF-I deputy commanding general for operations and commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps, had taken over MNSTC-I just a few months after Frost's death. Members of the PAO section remembered the incident.
Air Force 2nd Lt. Nathan Wallin from WING Public Affairs went to the Defense Information School with Frost, and had helped with his funeral arrangements. And the Air Force Reserve's 440th Airlift Wing – formerly stationed in Wisconsin – is now at Pope Army Airfield, which is co-located with Fort Bragg, the home of the XVIII Abn. Corps and many of the PAO section's soldiers.
First, the section flew a flag over the palace in Mackenzie and her father's honor, and the USF-I Air Component Coordination Element donated a shadow box to house the flag. They created a photo collage, and had it framed with help from the Al Faw Palace Mayor's Cell. Lt Gen. Helmick provided a signed three-star letter to place in the framed photo collage, along with a personal video tribute to Mackenzie.
Phone calls and emails flew back and forth between Wisconsin and Baghdad. Wallin took over plans to help deliver the packages, coordinating with Mackenzie's mother, Tiffany Goodson, and her principal, Joe Russell, for a special school-wide assembly.
On April 19, it all came together. In front of her classmates, Mackenzie received her thanks. Helmick's video ran. Air Force Colonel Richard Fischer, commander of the 440th Medical Squadron from Pope Army Airfield presented the mementos. Dry eyes were hard to find, but there were plenty of smiles.
Afterward, Russell said staff members and parents told him it was by far the most meaningful assembly they'd ever witnessed.
Goodson said she was incredibly proud of her daughter.
“It was amazing that she came up with the idea and was able to execute it,” she said.
And Mackenzie's reaction upon receiving her gifts?
Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick sends a greeting to Mackenzie Frost thanking her
for care packages sent to service members overseas. Video by U.S. Forces Iraq