Marine mom continues commitment to troops

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Anna Marie Lux
Monday, August 12, 2013

Linn Krafjack's work will not end when the last U.S. troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan. She and other volunteers of Operation Ooh-Rah will simply switch gears.

“We are going to keep our community involved in the military as long as there is a need,” the Janesville woman said.

In its sixth year, Operation Ooh-Rah is named after the spirited cry of the U.S. Marines.

Krafjack has been the inspiration behind the nonprofit group, which sends care packages to the military overseas. Since the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, most now go to Afghanistan.

Packages include toiletries, snacks and cards from home.

“People are still being deployed,” Krafjack said. “The need for these care boxes is still huge.”

In another year, the situation may change.

By the end of 2014, President Obama is committed to ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan.

“So far, we have concentrated on the deployed in war zones,” Krafjack said. “We have been talking about what direction to take after the troops are home.”

Krafjack and other board members of the group are committed to helping in new ways. They may focus on suicide in the military.

During 12 years and two wars, suicide among active-duty troops has risen steadily, hitting a record of 350 in 2012.

The number was twice as many as the previous decade and surpassed the number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan.

Krafjack calls the suicides unacceptable.

“As we see more and more returning troops, we have to figure out what to do to help them,” she said.

She talked about setting up some kind of buddy program.

Board member Pat Runaas said many troops are returning home with missing limbs.

“We are not doctors, but we are here to listen," she said. "I appreciate the sacrifices our troops are making. We want to help.”

Board members also are talking about how to help military families.

“We may start up a program to offer services by concerned people,” Krafjack said. “Maybe someone needs a ride to the doctor or they need a babysitter. The poor economy has made people in the community pull together for each other.”

Krafjack became the inspiration behind Operation Ooh-Rah after raising money for care packages for her son and everyone in his Marine unit each of the five times he was deployed to war zones.

Most recently, she mailed 48 care packages, bringing the total sent overseas to more than 33,500 pounds. Taylor Co., Rockton, Ill., has picked up the shipping charges for the last five years.

“The troops like getting things from home,” Runaas said. “The least we can do is help them out with some necessities. I wish more people would write to them because things like that keep them going.”

Krafjack launched the first benefit for Operation Ooh-Rah with hotdogs, three bands and a mother's determination in 2008.

This year, the annual fundraiser Saturday, Aug. 24, features nine bands on two stages and everything from homemade French fries to brats. In addition to music and food, a children's carnival and a ceremony for fallen warriors will be at Veterans of Foreign Wars, Mead-Allen Post No. 2306, on Afton Road.

The event continues to grow.

“Even though we don't have a military base nearby, so many of us have been touched by the troops,” she said.

Last year, more than 700 people attended.

Krafjack hopes for 1,000 through the gates this year.

“Every bit of the proceeds will go for the care boxes,” she said. “I come from a long line of military people, and I know how important it is to receive something from home.”

She enjoys packing each of the 40-pound boxes.

“It so over joys my heart,” she said. “I can't describe the wonderful feeling of putting them together.”

Boxes contain items that troops need but may not be able to get, including lip balm and black crew socks.

“No one gets paid for doing this,” Krafjack said. “We are doing it because it is like Christmas when the troops get these boxes. It makes them feel good, and it makes us feel good. It is so important that we help each other.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at (608) 755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.

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