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thedrifter
12-23-06, 04:43 PM
After losing soldier son, couple began Operation Christmas

Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Saturday, December 23, 2006

For more than a decade, American troops in Kuwait and neighboring countries have been enjoying the Christmas charity of a family touched by loss, and this year is no different.

Thousands of soldiers stationed in the desert kingdom stood in long lines earlier this week to receive their part of “Operation Christmas,” an annual gift-giving spree started by an American family whose son died of kidney disease while serving in the Army.

The group this year distributed more than 16,000 gift bags to servicemembers in Kuwait, while another 4,000 bags went to servicemembers in Iraq and 2,000 to troops in Qatar.

The tradition began in 1994, with Sheila and Lionel Gittens, an American couple living in Kuwait. Their son, Donny, was serving in the Army, but he died from a kidney ailment.

That year, the Gittenses organized a Thanksgiving dinner for 3,000 servicemembers in memory of their son. The next year, it evolved into a Christmas gift-giving, and has since seen more than 122,000 gift baskets and bags distribute to servicemembers.

Since then, they’ve been distributing the gift bags to deployed troops. The gifts are given to junior enlisted troops and many are donated by Kuwaitis and American expatriates living in the Middle East.

“I feel grateful that someone is concerned about us,” Pvt. Hayward Derouen, a 21-year-old native of Port Arthur, Texas, deployed with 233rd Transportation Company, said in an Army release.