How Young People Can Improve Troop Morale Abroad and at Home

The students and staff at Sonia Sotomayor Elementary take Sergeant Zach Wipf’s second deployment very seriously.  Zach is very special to the school as his wife Kali serves as the secretary and has been a source of love and support to her students.  Five years ago he was deployed to Afghanistan. Wipf’s 153rd Engineer Battalion of the South Dakota National Guard was recently deployed for a second tour to Iraq and is responsible for mission command and supervisor of several other units overseas. He drives and repairs tanks, and maintains military vehicles and equipment.

United in celebrations, care packages, classroom Skype calls and preparations for his return, the school’s administrators, parents, teachers and staff have created an opportunity for students to wrap their arms around those who protect them from afar. Here are a few ideas to help those about to be deployed, currently serving, returned from service… or for those who know Zach Wipf himself.

Veteran’s Day Celebration

During the week of Veteran’s Day, Sonia Sotomayor Elementary School honored veterans with a grand assembly. Students Rocky McKenzie and Nick Ellerbroek dressed as mascots Liberty and Justice respectively (named in honor of Justice Sotomayor) and effectively encouraged the pep rally. Melanie Sander, music teacher for the school, conducted third graders in song. Nicole Groen and Jenni Egstad, advisors for the Student Council, prepared the kids’ speeches. Amber Sundvold lead The Edison Middle School Choir in the National Anthem. Rodney Burmeister and the Washington High School Color Guard presented the flags. Furthermore Heather Conrad organized the gymnasium!

Over 30 veterans attended the event and I’m proud to say my family had a special friend to recognize. Ron Green, a surrogate uncle to me and best friend to my parents, Green served in the Naval Reserve from 1956-1962. He attended boot camp at Great Lakes outside of Chicago. He then attended Naval Supply School in Newport, RI. Serving within the United States, he acted as tender of supply, submarine, heavy cruiser and aircraft supply ships during active duty. He was honored to attend after an invitation from my daughter.


Without question, Wipf was the most honored member of the assembly. Recognized by Principal Tracy Vik and the school’s commitment to remembering him in Iraq, both Zach and Kali were surprised by the accolades and support provided by the students.


Gift Giving Ideas

The school plans to provide him with some basic necessities and things to help pass the time. Students will be making a variety of cards and signs at school and home.

According to Johnathan Pharr, of the United Veteran’s Network, “receiving packages from home definitely made the time I spent [in Iraq] less stressful”. In his article, What Deployed Troops Really Want In Their Care Packages, he gives practical advice for those back home. Sonia Sotamayor Elementary plans to send a care package February 1, 2017. Here are some ideas that families can provide for Wipf, his troop, and your favorite service member.

Downtime Activities

Board games, cards, books and plastic model kids are great ways to decompress from a stressful day and focus on something else, according to Pharr. If you have an outdated iPhone or iPad, consider loading this with video games, movies and music. Just like many people in their 20s and 30s, service members love digital entertainment.



Zach would love fun gadgets from The Dollar Store to play with when bored, crosswords, adult coloring books, pencils, pens, note pads, and/or books. Also consider themed packages (google or see Pinterest) Movie theme, popcorn, or goodies (no chocolate as this will melt!)

-Kali Wipf, wife of National Guard Sergent

Personal Items

Civilians can baby our feet if we’ve had a long day. We can take a quick trip to the drug store for foot powder, fresh socks, body wash, Vicks VapoRub, lip balm or IcyHot. Consider how inaccessible these easily purchased items are overseas and include them in care packages when sent.

“Things are sandy in the Middle East, and our goggles often get clouded by dirt in the air. Instead of relying on a t-shirt to clean them, lens cleaning cloths and small bottles of glass cleaner come in handy. Baby wipes and sunscreen were plentiful for us on our base, but your service member might need these”.


According to Kali,  Zach would actually benefit from hygiene items, workout items ( protein bars, shake mix etc..) as he will not have a post office or PX store to purchase items at his base in Iraq. He will only be able to collect those items when he is in Kuwait for one or two days every 90 days. Also, they were informed that perishables are not practical as he may not receive the box immediately.

Kali also notes white socks that pull up to shins are military standard and would be helpful. Please also help with Zyrtec, ibuprofen, acetominophen, Band-Aids, and any kind of first aid items will help too. Furthermore,  hygiene items like shampoo, conditioner, soap, body wash, tooth brushes, tooth paste, deodorant, of any kind are appreciated. He usually uses Axe, Old Spice, Crest. Travel sizes are best.


The best way to most anyone’s heart is through their stomach, and deployed service members are no different. While there’s enough food to go around on base, much of it can be a little bland, and the variety is lacking. Hot sauce is a great commodity to have around, and the convenience of Taco Bell sauce packets are great to have in the field. Similarly, many places the armed forces are deployed to are very hot, and we need to constantly remain hydrated. Flavoring packets that make water taste like lemon, strawberry or orange are awesome.

Beef jerky and sunflower seeds are great treats, but for a little bit of local flavor, try something that your loved one can’t get overseas, like a bottle of barbecue sauce from a local restaurant.

As with anything you send, it needs to be non-perishable. Sending homemade cookies or soft candies halfway around the world just won’t cut it. And please don’t send food in the same package as you do shampoo or other toiletries — there’s nothing worse than getting some treats from home covered in soap.

Zach would love protein bars, protein shake mixes, and energy drink mixes. He also loves nuts or any nonperishable snacks. Also consider instant coffee packets ( Starbucks, or any kind of instant packets from coffee isle), and Crystal Lite Packets

-Kali, Sargent Zach Wipf’s wife

Sentimental Things

While all of the above are great, sometimes we our troops just need an extra boost of confidence from home. While emails are convenient, they don’t have the same poignancy and convey the same emotion as a hand-written letter.

While service members are  away, remember to take videos of everything: baby’s first steps, parties, family get-togethers, and even just lounging around the house. Put some of those on a USB drive and send it, too. Sonia Sotomayor Elementary School plans to Skype with Wipf during his deployment and arrange for sentimental gifts upon his return.

Quilt of Valor Program

I’m proud that my daughter took part in the Quilt of Valor class through Heirloom Creations late this year. After 12 hours of class, she created the quilt displayed below. With a nominal fee, free quilting and and purchase of materials, this quilt was a gift that brought our veteran friend to tears.


Check out these local programs for the Quilt of Valor program if you or your youngster is interested in providing a meaningful gift upon their return.

Heirloom Creations: Sioux Falls, SD

Sioux Falls Quilt Guild

Pinterest Quilting Patterns


Below is the address to send care packages to Zach until further notice. Packages are helicoptered to Zach in Iraq. He will share all items with the 20 soldiers currently with him. Packages can take up to 3-4 weeks to arrive. 

Sgt Wipf Zacharia / FSC

153rd EN BN FSC

APO AE 09330


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