No adult told Kyle Sexton, a senior saxophone player in the York Comprehensive High School band, it would be a good idea to collect supplies for area National Guard soldiers serving in Afghanistan.
All he had to do was look to his own family, to cousin Anna Littlejohn, 14, a freshman at the school.
Anna’s father, Sgt. Robert Steve Littlejohn, is among 160 area soldiers with the 178th Combat Engineer Battalion who have been in Afghanistan since August.
“The whole family knows that the soldiers need things over there,” Sexton said, “so I thought it would be a good service project for the band to help all of the soldiers.”
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Sexton talked to the band’s co-directors, Douglas and Laura Brooks, and received the green light. Band parents pitched in and helped coordinate, but the students did most of the work.
For the past few weeks, dozens of kids – from tuba players to flutists – collected toiletries, non-perishable snacks and other items for the unit.
All of the stuff, a small mountain, was donated. It will be sent not just to Sgt. Littlejohn, but to all the soldiers of the 178th.
“Every one of those soldiers over there had to leave their family – my dad is gone from me,” said Anna Littlejohn. “This is great, for them to get things that they can’t get over there.”
Tabitha Littlejohn, Anna’s mother, said in talking with her husband over the past months, she has found that receiving a care package is the best morale booster for those at war. Sending stuff the troops really need at a cold, sometimes desolate base makes the packages even more important.
Sgt. Littlejohn – a squad leader responsible for 11 soldiers – has one young female soldier in his squad who receives a special box from the Littlejohn family each week.
Anna Littlejohn sent that female soldier – herself still in her teens – a Build-A-Bear this past week, hoping to make the cold nights a little less cold.
“This effort by the band is something that these soldiers appreciate more than people here will ever know,” Tabitha Littlejohn said.
Some of the band families – Sexton’s mother, Tina Stewart, niece of Sgt. Littlejohn among them – are paying for postage out of their own pockets.
“We wanted to help all of them,” Kyle Sexton said. “They deserve whatever we can give them.”
On Monday, many of the people involved in the service project came together in the band room at the high school to pack the materials for shipping. Kyle Sexton, Anna Littlejohn and Anna’s older sister, Harleigh, sorted stuff along with the band parents and others.
The band kids collected so much stuff that the group ended up with 34 boxes to send overseas. Even the grandmother of the whole family, Peatsa Meek, was on the floor wrapping boxes.
And who should call, while everybody was sorting and packing and taping, but Sgt. Robert Littlejohn himself.
“I wanted to thank everybody for doing this – over here we appreciate it very much,” Sgt. Littlejohn said over the phone. “It gives all the soldiers something to look forward to.
“It is just plain great what these kids are doing.”
The Cougar Band at York Comprehensive High School considers itself a big family. The family at Christmastime is now bigger – 160 soldiers bigger.
The phone Sgt. Littlejohn called was passed around, and Anna Littlejohn talked to that father so far away doing dangerous route-clearance jobs.
“Be careful,” Anna told her father. “Look for the boxes soon. And, I love you, Daddy.”