MANATEE -- Marine Cpl. Dustin M. Ellis of Bradenton has the best combat training, military equipment and supplies.
But the intangible that really helps him cope with the hardships and dangers of the Afghanistan war zone is encouragement from home.
Like the package he received from Manasota Operation Troop Support that arrived the day of a phone interview with the Herald just prior to Veterans Day.
Among the candy, snacks and magazines in the package was a card from a sixth-grader in Ms. Eve Fetzek’s class at King Middle School. The card contained a poem:
“When you come home,
“It will be great.
“When you come,
“We will appreciate.
“When you come back,
“We will cheer.
“When you come back,
“Everyone will hear.”
The little card, which the student worked on for some time, and worried that it might not be the best or even make sense, lifted Ellis’ spirits.
“We appreciate the fact that people keep us in their thoughts and prayers. It helps you get through everything over here,” he said.
“I would like to thank the people a lot who send the packages.”
A 2006 Bayshore High School graduate, Ellis is on his first deployment in Afghanistan. He helps construct runways out of aluminum matting for fixed-wing aircraft. He also helps construct helicopter landing zones.
Fetzek was pleased that a card from a King Middle student reached a hometown Marine.
“I am really happy for that Marine. That makes me feel great for him,” she said.
Ellis might be happy to know that King Middle social studies students have an assignment to find out if anyone in their family is serving in the military, or if a relative served in any of America’s previous wars.
“It helps the student connect with what’s happening in the real world,” Fetzek said.
After graduating from Bayshore, Ellis knew that he wanted to serve in the military.
“I considered the other services. The Marine Corps felt like the best decision for me. I like the camaraderie of the Marine Corps,” he said.
His mother, Joy Roberson of Bradenton, said Dustin talked to the family several times about joining the Marines and then signed up.
“I am very proud of him. Whatever he decided to do, we were ready to back him,” Roberson said.
Also waiting for Ellis is his wife, Kala. They were married last year in the Bayshore Gardens rec center.
Kala is a 2008 graduate of Manatee High School.
They plan to buy a house when Dustin returns to the United States next year. He also plans to enroll in firefighter school, probably at Manatee Technical Institute. Beyond that he wants to pursue a college degree and mentions State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota.
“He has always wanted to be a firefighter,” Roberson said.
For now, Dustin Ellis is focused on his duties in Afghanistan.
“The Afghani culture and lifestyle is very different than anyone could imagine. This place is a lot different than what people see on TV. It blows your mind how different they live,” he said. “We have nothing to complain about compared to what these people go through.”
Ellis stays in touch with his loved ones through Facebook and Skype.
Back on the home front, Roberson said she and her other four children support Dustin every way they can, including helping MOTS with those morale packages.
In addition, her employer, Gould and Lamb, has adopted her son’s unit and sends monthly snack packages to the field.
“We really are proud of him and what he’s doing. We support the troops as much as possible. I can’t wait for them to come home.”
Linda Craig of MOTS says volunteers recently packed 124 boxes for troops like Dustin, and those will be mailed at a cost of $12.95 each.
MOTS has the cost of postage covered this month, but not in December.
“People can help by starting a food drive of their own, or starting a postage drive.
“We have 52 deployed from this area that we know about,” she said.
For more information about MOTS, call 941-782-0748, find them on Facebook or email email@example.com.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021.