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Mother of Mohawk soldier sends packages to troops overseas

AKWESASNE TERRITORY, N.Y. - While the war in Iraq has caused political tension and a division among Americans who argue about the Bush administration, the justifications for the war and the money spent, the mother of a Mohawk soldier isn't paying attention. Instead, she's been busy gathering names of soldiers and sending them care packages.

Since 2004, a package-sending campaign that Debbie Jacobs organized has grown to include the participation of a wide range of people and organizations, such as schools, armed service organizations, a Boys and Girls Club, a 4-H Club and the tribal government. What started as a personal home project has grown into a community-wide effort from which dozens of soldiers have benefited, and Jacobs hopes the campaigning will continue to grow to include more parts of Indian country.

Jacobs' project started out small. In 2004 her son, Ash Cook, a soldier with the U.S. Army, was stationed in South Korea and Jacobs regularly sent him packages and gifts from home - the Mohawk territory of Akwesasne. One day Cook said to his mom, ''There are some people here who never get anything.''

The motherly love she had for her son was naturally transferred to the soldiers he was with, and the thought of them not receiving any special mail or packages disturbed her. She asked Cook for the names and addresses of any soldier who didn't receive mail and she began sending them packages.

Soon she decided to send packages to any soldier whose name and address she could get and she began asking friends and relatives for names. Later, she put a notice in the local newspaper asking readers for names of anyone serving overseas and whether they were Mohawk, and her list of recipients grew.

''Many people are against the war, but the reality is there are still men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan that need support,'' Jacobs said. ''I found a lot of people wanted to help out but didn't know how to go about it.''

''For me, it changed the focus, somewhat, from worrying about my son's safety to doing something to help,'' Jacobs said.

Jacobs filled boxes with magazines, snacks, personal hygiene items and sometimes photos.

''Ash said the baby wipes were the best thing to get in the desert,'' she said.

While Jacobs initially bore the expensive of the packages herself, the local American Legion post soon learned of her project and offered her $300 for postage. Since then, countless organizations have stepped forward to help, through monetary donations and by donating items to send. Local schools this past fall began collecting items and having students make the packages with Jacobs' help, and other groups have asked Jacobs to help them learn the process. Community members have dropped off boxes at her house filled with items, and shortly after Halloween Jacobs arrived home to find that someone had even donated their bag of Halloween candy anonymously.

For those who want to send packages, Jacobs has done a lot of the homework for them. She's learned through the past two years what postage costs, the different methods of sending packages, how to fill out the necessary customs forms and how to properly address the envelope. She offers to teach the process or take donations and mail packages herself.

Jacobs estimates that she's personally sent roughly 100 packages to various soldiers since 2004. Since then, her son has returned to the United States and is stationed in Colorado. Regardless of his location, Jacobs continues her package-sending project and continues to receive more names of those stationed overseas.

''It's unbelievable the support the community has given me,'' Jacobs said.

''People understand what it's like to have a child gone away, whether it's [that they've] moved away, are at college, etc. Having a child overseas is really hard and I appreciate all the support of my family.''

While many Natives are opposed to joining the armed services of any country, critics have been respectful of Jacobs' project and she's received nothing but words of encouragement and support.

''The men and women over there are all warriors, too,'' Jacobs said.

Jacobs wants her project to be as inclusive as possible and wishes to expand her list of recipients to include people from throughout Indian country or anyone at all who could use a package. She will not turn down any name and believes there are hundreds of Native soldiers or friends of Natives stationed overseas who would appreciate a package from home.

Names and addresses can be e-mailed to Jacobs at She may also be reached during business hours (Eastern Time) at (518) 358-9531.