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Moms helping soldiers

Flea collars and a prayer are tucked inside a brown shipping box bound for a remote region of Afghanistan.

Karla Smiley, 44, stuffs another box with chocolate chip granola bars, a pair of white socks, eye drops and ChapStick -- essentials for a soldier trying to survive the elements of a foreign terrain.

Two boxes down, more than 1,200 left to go.

``Every soldier deserves a mom,'' says Smiley, of Fort Lauderdale.

HOW TO HELP

To donate money or supplies or your time, visit the America's Moms for Soldiers website or call 954-871-8270.

For the past year, Smiley and fellow soldier mom Judy Smith have been packing boxes from a Pompano Beach office, filling out lengthy postal forms, raising money and going shopping at all hours of the night to ensure that these care packages reach soldiers who otherwise wouldn't receive a gesture of love from afar.

They call their nonprofit America's Moms for Soldiers and with the help of dozens of volunteers from throughout South Florida, they make sure soldiers who don't have any parents or next-of-kin listed in their military records know there's someone back home thinking of them.

``Hello, second mother of mine,'' Thomas, a U.S. Army soldier stationed in Iraq, wrote in his thank-you note to Smiley. ``There hasn't been any explosions lately ... all the guys here really appreciate what you're doing.''

With an ever growing list, Smiley keeps track of each soldier, saving their letters in color coded manila folders and jotting down their requests.

She knows that Randy, stationed in Iraq, likes Muscle Milk protein shakes; that Mike loves Double Stuffed Oreos; and that many female soldiers would appreciate an extra sports bra.

She got the idea for the project while attending her son James Reed's graduation ceremony at Fort Bragg, N.C. She noticed that several of the soldiers didn't have parents cheering them on.

``I thought if no one was there for them at that time, who was going to take care of them overseas?'' Smiley said.

Working with a chaplain and officers at Fort Bragg, she collected a list of 20 soldiers and started to send care packages from her home. The original list of 20 soon grew to more than 1,200.

Most of them joined the military as soon as they reached 18 and were no longer covered under the state-run foster care program.

Smiley added extra shifts to her job as a nurse to help pay for the packages, which each cost $11.70 to ship. She was joined by Smith, a fellow military mom from Fort Lauderdale. Smith's son, Lt. Ross Weinshenker, is stationed with the U.S. Army Infantry in Afghanistan.

Smith's husband, Dan Smith, who runs an insurance company, offered some office space in his building.

The women went to supermarket chains, sports teams and small businesses to collect donations. They underwent intense military background checks and traveled to Fort Bragg to meet face-to-face with military personnel to convince officials they were only trying to help.

The packages are filled with commonplace items serving uncommon purposes like baby wipes to freshen up soldiers who seldom get to take a shower or Q-tips to help clean the sand out of their weapons.

``They're asking us for things like flea collars to attach to their belts so they don't get bitten up,'' said Davie volunteer Pat Hughes, as she filled out a stack of postal forms required for each package. ``Flea collars. That breaks my heart.''

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