Jefferson Awards: Emergency Troop Support From Bay Area

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Aaron Negherbon prepares a package for troops at his TroopsDirect warehouse in Oakland. (CBS)

Aaron Negherbon prepares a package for troops at his TroopsDirect warehouse in Oakland. (CBS)

OAKLAND (CBS 5) – What started with a simple care package for a Marine captain serving in Afghanistan has blossomed into a pipeline of emergency support for service members overseas.

Recently, Aaron Negherbon scanned the latest email in his inbox. “They were asking for tourniquets and flashlights,” he said soberly.

It’s not unusual for Negherbon to get emails like this, along with satellite calls at all hours of the day, from the front lines in Afghanistan – like the call he got from a Marine major in need of help.

“He said, ‘We just got into our base here in Afghanistan and half of my unit is coming down ill because there is some type of virus or bacteria,'” Negherbon remembered. “He says, ‘I need 10 pressure washers and I need 2,000 feet of hose, can you do that?’ and I said, ‘Absolutely.'”

Negherbon says the equipment was there in a week, and so are most of the items he ships overseas through the non-profit he founded called TroopsDirect.

“A lot of these items are simply not available readily through the supply chain,” he explained. “If they are, it might take weeks or maybe months for them to get it. With TroopsDirect, they request it on day one, and we are literally shipping within 24 hours.”

It all started with a gift box he sent to a college buddy stationed in Afghanistan. When his friend wrote back to say his unit could use some more specific items, Negherbon set about filling every request.

“Other commanders found out about my buddy’s ‘personal supply chain’ if you will, and they started reaching out to us, saying, ‘Hey, we heard you are helping them, we need a lot of the same items, could you help us out as well?'” he reported.

Troops tell him each package gives them all a welcome boost.

“It’s pretty life-changing, actually,” Marine Jeff Mahaffey told CBS 5 in 2011. “When Aaron sends that stuff to us it’s like a life-saver. Morale instantly improves.”

Negherbon sends out an average of 1,000 pounds a week, from a partially donated warehouse in Oakland, all of it on demand. And while many items are donated, money raised helps purchase specific equipment and pays the hefty postage fees.

One item in high demand is neon colored chalk used to mark areas where troops need to be careful of possible roadside bombs.

“They are using bottle caps, Q-tips, and maybe some shaving cream to mark where that threat may be, as opposed to brightly-colored chalk,” Negherbon explained.

TroopsDirect doesn’t send cookies or magazines – only gear and equipment, and the basics for nutrition, hygiene, and health.

“I am a regular old civilian,” Negherbon said. “I was never in the service and have just been in business my years after college. With TroopsDirect, I realized the need was there and I really believe in supporting America as best I can … and this has really become my calling.

Negherbon hopes one day to be able to hire veterans to help fulfill the orders and handle the communications. You can help now on his website, troopsdirect.org.

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