By Kim Hayes, American Gold Star Mother of Southwest Florida Chapter & Department Chaplain
Reprinted with permission from the SWFL American Gold Star Mothers – July 2019 Newsletter
Sixteen years ago, my daughter in law Kylie (then Zawacky) Hayes hugged her brother Tim goodbye, and he was deployed with the 101st Airborne to the Iraq war. Shortly thereafter, their father Tony, an Airforce/Vietnam Veteran became concerned about the lack of supplies and decided to do something about it. He took up what he thought would be one collection in his Bible study class, packed and shipped a few boxes, and Operation Soldier Care was born.
These last sixteen years, Tony and the Zawacky family have given their time, often their home, and their leadership towards the amazing effort of providing food, supplies, and spiritual support for our troops in harm’s way. Since 2003, Operation Soldier Care has received $519,000 in donations, and has shipped 11,154 boxes to 1,392 troops.
These boxes provided more than double stuffed Oreos (a favorite!). They were a reminder of home and what the troops were fighting for, and an assurance that they were not forgotten.
Our sweet friend and Blue Star Mom Julie Campbell has been instrumental the past several years in many capacities, as has the Scialdo and Hayes families.
Our Taylor and Kylie were involved as high schoolers before Taylor had any idea, he’d one day be receiving packages himself in Afghanistan!
Saturday, June 29 was our final packing day, and Tony Z didn’t want any fanfare. We managed to have Susan Scialdo sneak in, along with Tim, Tony’s son who inspired the whole thing.
Tony shared some statistics, many fond memories, and concluded with reading the names and sharing personal memories of each of the six fallen of the 1,392 troops. Two of those fallen were our own SSG Marc Scialdo and SPC Steven Taylor Hayes.
On behalf of American Gold Star Mothers, I presented both Tony and Tim with one of our challenge coins, and additionally had the privilege of presenting Tony and another packer with a DoD Vietnam pin.
Tony will be retiring soon and felt with the decrease in combat operations and increase in available supplies, this was the right time for OSC to come to a close.
It was a bittersweet but beautiful day. Sixteen years ago, Tony saw a need, did something about it, and was faithful to continue to lead others to do the same year after year. His son Tim is a reminder that you never know the potential impact you will have on others. Tim’s raising his right hand to say yes sixteen years ago has impacted literally thousands of people.
Thank you, Tony and the Operation Soldier Care family, for tending to our troops so faithfully. You’re an inspiration!
To learn about the American Gold Star Mothers of SWFL go to: AGSMSWFL