On February 26, 1999, Dan Bowers of York, Pennsylvania, sent a box of 26 paperback books to his son-in-law. Rick Honeywell, an Air Force Chief Master Sergeant, had been deployed with his squadron to the desert of Kuwait on a hastily scrabbled-together base that had no recreational facilities – no movies, no library, no gymnasium, no PX; “but a lot of sand,” commented Rick.
Fast forward twenty years, and what was a local effort by family and friends is now a national non-profit organization called Operation Paperback. Over 19,000 volunteers that have sent 2,853,347 books to deployed troops, veterans, military families, VA hospitals, USOs, and Red Cross units in 35 different countries around the world.
Volunteers across the country collect gently used books and ship them direct to military points of contact. The organization also receives hundreds of requests a year for specific titles or high-demand book genres that are acquired and shipped by the organization’s staff.
“Our number one priority is getting high-quality reading materials in a timely fashion to any member of the military community that requests it. Over the years, we have relied heavily on our volunteer shipping network to deliver books. They have generously contributed their own time and money to help us meet our mission,” says Andrea Hoshmand McAfee, Vice President of Operation Paperback.
With no paid staff, monetary donations made to the organization often are used to satisfy special requests. At the height of Operation Iraqi Freedom, troops on the front line requested Iraqi phrase books – 90 copies were purchased and immediately shipped. With the drawdown of troops overseas, focus has shifted to veterans here at home. The organization held a special fundraiser to purchase and distribute 2,200 copies of “Courage After Fire,” a book designed to help veterans return back to family life and society. Volunteers regularly send books and personal care items to veterans that are homebound, VA hospitals and transitional facilities.
“Operation Paperback is intended to attract citizens who believe in our mission and are motivated to spend their own money to collect books and send them to our military community. Some folks participate by sending a few books at a time, others clear their shelves and hunt for paperbacks at yard sales and used book stores. Often volunteers organize their coworkers, churches and local organizations to do a mass shipping. Each volunteer gives what he or she can in his or her own way, and each helps remind members of the military community that we are thinking of them,” says Operation Paperback President, Chrissy Honeywell.
With an average of 11,000 books being shipped monthly, and new volunteers eagerly joining its ranks daily, Operation Paperback is asking the public to reach out to active duty members and veterans and offer them the gift of reading through their program. Recipients receive regular shipments of a variety of books at no cost. They can sign up online at www.operationpaperback.org.
Many honors have been conferred on the organization and its members – by individual units of the Armed Forces, by the Pentagon, by State Governors, and by President George W. Bush, who personally presented a Presidential Medal to Bowers in the Oval Office. However, the organization stays close to its humble roots, managing its volunteers with a personal touch and cherishing direct interactions with military members. As stated best by Founder Dan Bowers, “The accolades which are most appreciated are those letters of thanks, which are received daily from troops around the world who have just opened one of our boxes of books.”