Victoria Marine thanks women for care packages
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MILITARY BASES IN AFGHANISTAN
FOB Delaram, DelaramCamp Leatherneck, Helmand ProvinceCamp Dwyer, Helmand River ValleyBagram Air Base, Parvan ProvinceKandahar International Airport, KandaharShindand Air Base, Herat Province
Standing in the waiting room of the Victoria Women's Clinic, U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Alejandro Aguilar hugged medical lab technician Evie Valenzuela.
"Thank you for your service," Valenzuela said, surrounded by five laboratory co-workers who also thanked the soldier for serving their country.
Aguilar's 2-year-old daughter, Kaelyn, grasped her tiny arms around Daddy's neck, and buried her face in his chest.
While moving through the group of lab workers, hugging the ladies one by one, Aguilar held Kaelyn with his left arm, knowing his daughter's sniffles and tears were contained as long she felt him near.
A month ago, the 24-year-old soldier returned to the United States from his first military tour in Afghanistan; a six-month deployment that was cut back to four, as part of President Barack Obama's 2011 promise to draw down troops from the country.
Two weeks ago, Aguilar, or Captain America, as his children refer to him, returned home to Victoria.
He'd waited four months to embrace his wife, Alyssa, their 3-year-old son, Noa, and Kaelyn.
And since the family's first embrace at the airport two weeks ago, Kaelyn refuses to let go.
"It's worse at home. She literally tells me to go away," Alyssa, 22, giggled.
The corporal has spent recent weeks decompressing from his trip, spending time with family, and enjoying the showers of homecoming "thank-yous."
But there was one "thank you" Aguilar felt he owed the Women's Clinic laboratory workers. And he wanted to do it in person, as soon as he got home.
"Thanking someone in person means a lot more. You can see their face," Aguilar said, who surprised the group Monday to thank them for sending care packages overseas for 200 men in his unit. "I wanted them to know how much I appreciated them, and what a difference they made for me and my fellow Marines out there."
A few weeks before Christmas, Women's Clinic employees, Valenzuela, Elia Ramirez, Amanda Martinez, Lana Carol and Aguilar's mother Olivia Aguilar, who also works in the Women's Clinic, organized and packed 50 care packages that were shipped overseas to soldiers in Aguilar's First Reconnaissance Battalion Unit.
Alyssa helped compile the care packages with her mother-in-law, filling 200 11-by-11 boxes with blankets, hand warmers, hot cocoa, beef jerky, Christmas candy and cookies, that arrived at Camp Leatherneck in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan on Christmas Day.
"I knew they were coming, but I didn't know how many were coming," the soldier said. "At first, they were just sent to me. But then, there were so many boxes, and people were asking me, 'Who are all these boxes for?'"
Aguilar informed his men, the care packages were from Victoria, and they were for the soldiers.
"A lot of the guys really liked the blankets and the hand warmers. They were just real appreciative," he said, noting the cold temperatures during his tour.
Valenzuela said after the care packages were sent, the laboratory employees would ask for regular updates on Aguilar, rooting and praying for him while he served abroad.
"Even though we had never met him, we felt like we knew him," she said. "We were excited when we heard he was coming home. We were hoping to meet him."
Aguilar is currently deciding whether to re-enlist in the Marine Corps, or exit the military and go back to school.
"It's a big choice to make to stay in, or get out. I enjoy being a Marine, and doing it right now is what's best for my family," he said. "It's just hard being away."
But if he decides to stay in, and returns overseas, he knows his family and the Women's Clinic employees will support their soldiers in service.
"People get care packages over there, but a lot of times, guys don't," he said. "Sometimes you feel like people forget about you when you're gone. You're so far away and you get caught up in the work. It means a lot to get something like that."