MUNIZ AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Puerto Rico - A little girl named Iris is helping an Air Force master sergeant stay on task during the recovery effort for Hurricane Maria.
“She keeps me going. I look at her picture every day,” said Master Sgt. Eric Circuns, a C-130 loadmaster with the 156th Airlift Wing, Puerto Rico Air National Guard.
Iris is the name of a girl, likely about 6 years old, who drew a picture and included the message “We Pray For You,” along with two large hearts. The drawing and message were included in a care package sent to the island and Circuns opened. He taped the drawing to the dashboard inside a pickup truck he often drives at Muniz Air National Guard Base.
“I don’t know who she is or where she is from, but she is giving me a smile every single day,” he said.
The Puerto Rico Air National Guard is working alongside dozens of Air Force units from around the country to support the airlifting of relief supplies to the island. Hundreds of airlift missions have arrived at the island since Hurricane Maria hit it on Sept. 20. Dozens more arrive every day. The supplies have included everything from gallon jugs of water and emergency food kits to power generators and mobile cell phone tower trucks.
And somewhere along the line, a little girl named Iris drew a picture and it landed in the hands of this master sergeant.
Circuns’ wife and two of his three children are staying in California while he works with the PRANG supporting the relief effort. An adult daughter is home with him in Puerto Rico and he has Iris.
“She keeps me company,” he said.
Letters and care packages are sent to U.S. troops in times of both peace and war.
According to the U.S. Postal Museum, which is operated by the Smithsonian Institute, mail service and care packages have been a part of U.S. military life since the Revolutionary War. During the revolution, no national mail or package delivery system existed. Mail was expensive and was primarily delivered by courier for the wealthy or, when possible, was sent to specific towns by families hoping that their loved ones would soon pass by that town on the move from one battle to another.
During the Civil War, Union soldiers were the beneficiaries of many letters from home. Soldiers in the Confederacy had a much harder time getting mail. The federal government ran the U.S. Post Office and support for Post Offices in the South were cut off when southern states seceded.
In World War I, the allied forces in Europe created the General Post Office, which at one point was delivering as many as eight million letters and one million parcels per week to U.S., British and French forces in Europe, according to History.com. Mail service continued to expand in World War II. During World War II the volume of mail was so great that it took up too much space in cargo ships heading to Europe from the U.S. This led the Army and the Post Office to create the “v-mail” service, in which letters to overseas military personnel were shot on microfilm to reduce the volume of space they would take. After the microfilm was delivered to Europe, the microfilm was printed again in full size and the letters were delivered to the troops.
Following World War II, the U.S. government created CARE packages, relief supplies sent to war-torn Europe and Asia. The CARE packages were a key component of U.S. relief sent to East Berlin, Germany, during the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49.
Today, while email and other means of communications have replaced most letter writing, care packages – whether sent to a specific loved one – or sent forward to anyone in need, remain a cherished tradition of U.S. military service.