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Electric Boat group surpasses 10,000 care packages for troops

Groton — If Bill Dodge and company's success were to be measured in numbers, these would be the results: 10,112 care packages; 86,828 pounds; $61,077 in shipping costs.

That's the milestone reached recently by The Friends at Electric Boat U.S. Troop Support Group, which sends care packages to service members deployed overseas.

It all started in 2004 when a colleague, Col. Ted Larson, was called to active duty and sent to Camp Taqaddum in Iraq. Dodge, of Lebanon, a principal engineer at Electric Boat, organized small potluck lunches and used the money to send care packages to Larson.

The effort quickly grew. Fundraisers, which were initially held in small offices, moved to conference rooms, then to the cafeteria, then to bigger facilities. The group went from supporting individuals to entire groups of deployed service members from Connecticut and Rhode Island.

The care packages have been stuffed with everything from beef jerky to shampoo, and most recently Girl Scout cookies and cards from Girl and Boy Scouts were sent to members of the Connecticut Air National Guard, currently deployed in the Middle East, and numerous service members deployed in multiple countries.

Shipments peaked between 2007 and 2011. In 2007, there was a surge in the number of U.S. troops being sent to Iraq. The largest shipments were around Christmastime in 2009 and the spring of 2010, when about 1,000 care packages were sent to Connecticut National Guardsmen with the 1st Battalion, 102nd Infantry Regiment, which was deployed in Afghanistan.

Years later, as the U.S. military scaled back its presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, the need for the care packages decreased, Dodge said. But the mission has always remained the same: to show support for those we put in harm's way and to wish them success in their missions.

But, he said, it's been "very disappointing" that many of the areas in Iraq where service members were stationed and where the group sent packages, such as Mosul and Fallujah had later "fallen back into the hands of Islamic terrorists."

Larson, whose deployment kicked off the group's efforts, was stationed just outside Fallujah, Dodge said.

These days, the group doesn't know where many of the care packages go.

"Because of confidentiality and mission security they don't provide us any more than a name, a command and an APO (Army Post Office)," Dodge explained. "Sometimes we hear back from them about where the care packages reached them."

Service members have made their appreciation known. Upon returning from deployments, they've paid visits to EB and to schools, whose students sent them cards as part of the care packages, to personally thank them.

But they don't always make it back. Army 1st Lt. Keith Heidtman, 24, of Norwich, the son of an EB employee, was killed on May 28, 2007, when enemy fire brought down his helicopter in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad. The group had sent Heidtman a care package, and Dodge heard from his parents that he'd greatly appreciated the package.

"When I met them at his funeral, that was very emotional," Dodge said.

After more than 10 years and 10,000 care packages, Dodge is thankful for the support and involvement by other EB employees and the surrounding community.

"It's just a matter of focusing all that energy and effort because it's there and there's so many willing people," he said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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