PENINSULA - Peninsula fifth-graders carried out a vital mission this past year, helping bolster the morale of Oregon National Guardsmen serving in Afghanistan.

For the past several years, Peninsula resident and city of Long Beach Economic Activity Coordinator Ragan Andrew has served as the chairman of the Loyalty Days Junior Miss program.

While attending a city of Long Beach event in 2005, Andrew met Joe Bradford, an infantry-trained 1st Lieutenant in the Oregon Army National Guard. Having a lot of unique things in common, the two kept in regular contact for several months before he was sent to Camp Shelby, Miss., in February 2006. A couple months later, he was deployed with the 141 Logistical Task Force 41st Brigade Combat Team to Camp Phoenix in Kabul, Afghanistan under the mission Operation Enduring Freedom, where his platoon would train and aid the Afghanistan National Army.

Also during that February, Andrew was preparing a group of fifth grade girls for their Junior Miss coronation in April. For the coronation event, each of the girls are given 10 weeks to learn a dance routine, rehearse their speeches, learn all aspects of the city, county and state and donate time to civic service projects.

"The gist of Loyalty Days is community service, patriotism and pride in yourself, community and country," Andrew explains. "The Junior Miss program is about generating and producing ladies for our community through developing manners, being a good citizen and becoming personally enriched. It's about what is in their brains and in their hearts."

While brainstorming to come up with a civic service project for the girls, Andrew also felt obligated to help Lt. Bradford. Little did she know that her enthusiasm would be matched by five small town fifth-grade girls: Jr. Miss Goldfinch Miranda Kretz, Jr. Miss Friendship Tawnie Nesbitt, Jr. Miss Loyalty Emily MacDonald, Jr. Miss Rhododendron Tinisha Gray and Jr. Miss Lighthouse Jackie Smith. As part of their year-long civic service project, fittingly named "Operation Homeland Morale," the Junior Miss court made cards, wrote letters and drew pictures to send good spirits nearly 7,000 miles to Bradford's platoon.

In addition to their kind words and encouragement, the girls gathered donations to put together care packages of supplies and goodies for the 46 soldiers to share. By selling patriotic teddy bears and through generous donations from citizens, organizations and local businesses, the girls raised $5,000 to send troops necessities like Q-tips, Visine, sunscreen, socks, unscented baby wipes, tubes of Carmex, dental products, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, pens, paper, and envelopes. Other simple pleasures were also included, such as calling cards, coffee, fruit cups, nuts, trail mix, beef jerky, gum, chocolate, mints, Corn Nuts, popcorn, Oreo cookies, disposable cameras, paddle balls and other fun toys. At one point they even put together a "Birthday in a Box," complete with hats, treat bags and decorations.

About every six weeks, Andrew and the court lovingly packaged up a variety of care boxes to survive their two to three week shipment to the Middle East.

Never steering far from their patriotic pride, the group also teamed up with young kids at Seaview's Peninsula Church Center to create a large American flag out of the children's painted handprints. In return, the soldiers sent back 3-foot by 5-foot American flags with personal messages scribbled in permanent marker.

Long after coronation and Loyalty Days had passed, the girls continued their correspondence with the 31 men and 15 women at Camp Phoenix for approximately 18 months. Periodically, Andrew received e-mails and photos from Bradford, thanking her and the 2006 court for their gifts of encouragement. Andrew and her girls loved sending goodies, but also appreciated the photos of the platoon with their homemade flag and the occasional snapshots of soldiers at Afghani orphanages.

Last month, after being away from home for more than a year, all 46 of Bradford's platoon made it back to the United States safe and sound. At the same time, a package made its way to Andrew's home. Inside, their adopted soldiers had included a pile of their "Thank you" letters (accidentally misplaced from Thanksgiving 2006), handmade beaded bracelets, copies of ISAF News (with translations in English and two Middle Eastern languages) and Camp Phoenix teddy bears.

The letters were as follows:

Dear Junior Miss,

I know it took like forever to generate a group of letters, but the platoon finally did it! Your care packages, letters and pictures constantly keep our spirits up. You are and always will be appreciated and always remembered and loved. Thank you!

- 1st Lt. Joseph D. Bradford,

Platoon Leader

To all of you lovely ladies from the Junior Miss:

I just wanted to take a moment and thank all of you for your gifts. They have been welcomed by all of us. Keep up your spirits and you are all doing us proud.

- Cpl. Matthew Archer

I want to thank you very much for all that you have done for us here in Afghanistan. Everything you send is very well used between all of us in the Trans Platoon. My name is SPC Lanier, Jeremy. I am married and have two girls, ages eight and two. I am from Huntsville, Ala., and volunteered with the Oregon National Guard to come on this deployment for Operation Enduring Freedom 2006-2007. I am very glad to serve my country with a great group of men and women in this platoon. I am also grateful to have people like you all in the United States to support what we do for our country. The photo paper in the last shipment was very appreciated by me, we do not have access to things like that here or other items that you send us here.

- SPC Jeremy Lanier

... thank you so very much for your generosity. Although we don't say it much, deep down it means a lot to us to know we have the love and support of people like yourselves... The enclosed bracelets are a small token of our appreciation for all the cool stuff you have been sending us (thanks to you, it has been like Christmas every few weeks). The bracelets are made and sold by Afghan children at a bazaar that is held here on Camp Phoenix every other week on Friday. There are all kinds of cool and unusual things to be found there, as the scorpion bracelets will attest to. I figured that among your group a couple of bug-loving naturalists may appreciate them. Also enclosed are a few publications of things that go on over here that you don't get on the six o'clock news. I hope they may be of some interest and give a bit of insight on what we are doing in Afghanistan. Finally, I just want to say again that your giving spirits has made our time here more meaningful. Thank you for your thoughts and words of encouragement.

- Sgt. Calvin Jansma

Hello, thanks to you all! We appreciate everything you have done for us. We will keep doing what we are doing, you keep doing what you're doing. Thanks again.

- Brandon Singleterry

Thank you for all the great stuff you've sent us. The thought of sending us stuff that we need is truly heroic. I've consumed countless amounts of goodies that you've sent. The Q-tips are great for cleaning my rifle, and my ears. I appreciate all you do for me.

- Specialist Blanchard,

US Army Special Forces

Thank you for your efforts in gathering us an ample supply of food for the coming weather. We will need it to keep the morale up and encourage hibernation. It's nice to see how people back home are still concerned for a small portion of Americans overseas.

- Sgt. Ransom Bodeen

Thank you for your support. All the items you have sent us have been put to great use. I would like to express my gratitude for all your support. Thank you.

- Sgt. Hoff

I would like to thank you very much for everything you send. Your packages are appreciated very much. I am new to this platoon and in the short time that I've been here, I have noticed that your support has helped build the morale of these soldiers, including myself.

- SPC Moore

I wanted to thank you for all you have done for us. It is special that you guys take the time to give us all the nice things you send.

Thanks, Douglas

Greetings from Afghanistan, things are going pretty well. Thanks for your support, from a fellow Washingtonian. Thank you again.

- Andrew Flores

Thanks for all the goodies; I really loved it. It was so thoughtful. We all enjoyed everything! Love ya.

- SSG Mitts

I just wanted to thank you for your support; we appreciate all that you do. The goodies that you send are enjoyed by all and go fast. I wish you all a Happy Holiday! Thank you.

- SPC Jennifer LeBland

... I just recently joined the transportation platoon. I noticed all the goodies from you in the office. Thank you very much for all the snacks and things. We all love Oreos and we say that one package lasts five minutes. So as of Nov. 23, we had 20 minutes of Oreos. I notice that you are from Long Beach. I've been there a few times. I went to high school in Kelso. I am very glad to be a Portland resident now. I quite enjoyed my visits to Long Beach. Love the coast! I really miss warm weather. I thought I liked the cold, but I thought wrong. Could you maybe take a nice picture of the coastline for us? It would give us soldiers something nice to look at. Thank you! Have a great holiday season! Stay safe. Thank you, again, for all the goody boxes. Your generosity is much appreciated.

- Michelle Henckel,

PV2 U.S. Army, Oregon

I would like to start this letter by saying on this day of Thanksgiving: "Thank you." Thank you for the many things you have provided. From the toothbrushes, baby wipes, puzzles and goodies. This shows that someone back home really cares. Soon, Christmas will be next and my only wish is to be near my wife, but I can't. One thing I do know is that a whole nation is counting on us to protect them from all the wrongdoing. That motivates me...

-SSG Mario Juarez

...thank you for the support and all the gifts. Even though, I must say, that pretty soon all the soldiers won't have any teeth left pretty soon ... special thanks for the baby wipes and Q-tips, they will come in handy. P.S. This letter was written on the notepad you sent us.

- SPC Michael Crapper

I want to thank you for all your support. You girls are outstanding. We really look forward to hearing from you and opening your boxes. Thank you again for all of your support.

- SPC Sue Sutton

In the near future, Andrew plans to adopt the new platoon at Camp Phoenix, headed by 1st Lieutenant Stephene Bear. In addition to sending everyday necessities, she hopes to also gather school supplies, coloring books and toys for the troops to give to curious Afghani children.

Anyone who would like to donate items for Operation Homeland Morale can bring them to Long Beach City Hall or the Cottage Bakery, labeled "Attention: Ragan Andrew." Patriotic bears are still available for $5.

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