Operation Creekside was begun a few years ago by Brentwood resident Ed McClelland, a member of Creekside Church on O’Hara Avenue. For years, he’s quietly collected snacks, toiletries, socks and myriad bits of everyday America, scrounged up money for postage and shipped boxes of caring to troops overseas. Each box, scrawled with messages of support, is prayed over before being sent on its way.
McClelland lost track of how many boxes he’s shipped over the years after the number topped 1,000 because, well, he doesn’t really care.
“The quantity isn’t the big deal,” he said. “The prayer is the big deal.”
Earlier this year, Creekside Church merged with other local churches to become Impact Church. Its home on O’Hara closed, and the congregation began meeting across town on Balfour Road. The only place the church’s name survives is through McClelland’s program and on a certificate of appreciation from the American Embassy in Kirkuk, Iraq.
Eric Boettcher was the one who got the certificate. A lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, Boettcher and his wife, Maribeth, joined Creekside Church after moving to Brentwood in 2003. In 2005 came the first of three deployments for Boettcher’s unit, the B-451 Civil Affairs Battalion. While in Iraq, the unit provided the buffer between the Iraqi people and the coalition’s combat forces, helping to stabilize communities in preparation of turning control over to the Iraqi people.
Working at the business end of the counter-insurgency effort, Boettcher’s unit provided humanitarian and logistical support to locals in Kirkuk, a city of 800,000 in northern Iraq. As they worked, care had to be taken to provide assistance equally to the many ethnic groups in one of the country’s most diverse cities.
But Boettcher noticed things weren’t always equal. He learned of Ishtar School, a Christian elementary that had never been visited by coalition units and had never received the assistance given to others. Aid, he said, had mostly gone to where it would do the most good in earning trust, both to prepare for stable self-government and to protect American forces.
“A happy populace keeps our soldiers safe,” he said, adding that the approach didn’t always seem fair. “It’s fine to give the love to Sunnis and Shias, but it isn’t fair to not give love to the Kurds, the Turkamens and the Assyrians (Christians) just because they behave.”
It took a lot of discussion with his superiors, but Boettcher got permission to bring aid to Ishtar. For the month of August, 2005, every package sent from Creekside was for them. The operation helped improve the situation in the region to the point that it became the first in which coalition forces and Iraqi security forces worked together for Iraqi people of all ethnicities.
“You can’t imagine what it’s like to see Shia children hugging Sunni soldiers,” Boettcher said. “It’s amazing.”
For helping Boettcher’s mission, officials in Kirkuk produced a certificate of appreciation for Creekside Church. Boettcher paired it with a flag flown over the embassy, and presented it to the church.
When Creekside closed, however, the items needed a new home, and Boettcher could not think of a more deserving recipient than McClelland. Last Sunday, Boetcher presented them to his friend, who shrugged off his desire for notoriety long enough to accept them for his “team.”
“It’s not about showing off,” he would tell his re-assembled crew on Tuesday. “It’s about doing what we do.”
With Boettcher and his unit home for now, Operation Creekside focuses its efforts on a steadily growing list of 269 overseas Americans. They work their way down the list, sending two boxes to each person, then starting over at the top of the list. Occasionally boxes come back, as in the case of a 24-year-old mother of two, who was killed in combat in 2008.
Operation Creekside now benefits from donations from across the country, from individuals and corporations alike. Still, there is always a need for more, and the clockwork production of care packages continues twice per month, every month.
And with every package is carried the prayers of the volunteers who packed it, along with the legacy of caring that, despite the demise of its namesake church, carries on.
“The legacy continues,” Boettcher said Tuesday as the last of 58 more care packages were stuffed into McClleland’s truck. “It continues on through Ed.”
To learn more about Operation Creekside or make a donation, e-mail McClelland at email@example.com.