ROTC shows hallmark of kindness at Cards for the Troops

Grand Canyon University Army ROTC cadet Annsley Oelrich helps children design Christmas cards at the toddler table during Cards for the Troops on Thursday at Aeroterra Community Center in Phoenix.

Photos by Ralph Freso

Sparkly Christmas tree?

Check.

Star of Bethlehem?

Check.

Ladybug?

Check.

Annsley Oelrich had no qualms about supplying a girl in ponytails with one ladybug sticker, then another, then another. She stuck them, with great artistic verve, to a Christmas card she decorated, right next to a sticker of a Christmas tree and the Star of Bethlehem.

GCU Army ROTC cadet Calvin Shanks welcomes guests to Cards for the Troops.

“There may not be so many messages (in the card), but we got stickers. We got ladybugs, we got pumpkins, we got Santas. It’s wild up in these cards,” said Oelrich, one of about a dozen Grand Canyon University Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadets that volunteered recently at the city of Phoenix’s fourth Cards for the Troops.

Oelrich, who gingerly balances her life as an ROTC cadet and nursing sophomore, spent Thursday night at the event in the Aeroterra Community Center, a community resource center funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. She beamed as she helped a table of children stick, glue, glitter and paste their way to Christmas card greatness.

The event involved movement, creativity and controlled chaos, which fell in Oelrich’s wheelhouse. She wants to work in pediatrics and, after serving in the Army, in the pediatric intensive care unit.

“I LOVE the kids. I have worked with kids in every single one of my jobs, and I really miss that. So being able to interact with a lot of the kids (here) … I feel I’m definitely in my element,” she said.

Almost 200 families participate annually in the event to create the cards, which will be sent to troops deployed overseas that won’t be making it home for the holidays.

This was the fifth year that the University’s ROTC cadets have volunteered, this year alongside members of the National Guard.

Some of the Christmas cards made by guests at Cards for the Troops. They will be mailed to servicemen and servicewomen who can't be home for the holidays.

“It’s a big deal. These cadets come out every year and take the time out of their day to do this with our families,” said Ashley Goepfert, who was part of the ROTC when she was a GCU undergraduate and now works in the Public Record and Services Unit of the Phoenix Police Department.

“What’s really amazing is the fact that this moment, where you have the military working with the families, is a very emotional moment,” said Goepfert. “What really just tugs at the heartstrings is that it teaches the children about the military, and it brings the community together for the greater good.”

Receiving those cards in the mail also means a lot to the deployed servicemen and servicewomen who receive them.

Before spearheading this card-making event for the city, Goepfert would send cadets she knew from her GCU ROTC days cards and packages.

“When I served overseas, especially when I was in Afghanistan, she sent cards, well-wishes, things like that,” said Nick Stewart, who left GCU’s ROTC program a decade ago to enlist. The AeroTec Systems technical development manager has since returned to GCU and will be conferred his business degree at winter Commencement on Dec. 15.

“It was very uplifting to me, and everybody that was around me, for Ash to be doing that for us.”

Stewart said when he heard she was continuing to mail troops messages and packages in her position with the city of Phoenix, he was happy to attend the event.

“It was nice to know she was carrying that on. … Friends of mine weren’t even overseas anymore, but she still cared enough to continue to try to give that joy, that happiness, that comfort, that she gave to us,” Stewart said.

Army National Guard Capt. and GCU alumnus Matthew Lang hands out raffle tickets at Cards for the Troops. The National Guard and GCU Army ROTC helped out at the event Thursday at Aeroterra Community Center.

It’s why Matthew Lang, a captain in the Army National Guard and GCU alumnus, made sure to make it home to Phoenix from his deployment in Germany.

“The main reason (for coming home) was this event,” Lang said.

Not only did families make cards but could join in a card-making contest, visit with Captain America, pick up a book and watch a movie.

GCU ROTC Cadet Isaiah Holst, a freshman prelaw major, volunteered at Cards for the Troops for the first time.

“I thought it was a good opportunity to get off campus and be involved,” he said.

GCU Army ROTC cadet Hadden Stark high-fives a young guest as he makes his Christmas card during Cards for the Troops at Aeroterra Community Center in Phoenix.

Cadet Hadden Stark, a junior communications major, said GCU Army ROTC wanted to create a positive environment for the community.

“Who isn’t happy at Christmastime? It’s just fun to kind of be in this time together and enjoy it with them,” Stark said.

Calvin Shanks, a GCU Army ROTC cadet and psychology graduate student, said he loves that so many people took the time to support the troops overseas. “It gives you a warm feeling,” he said.

Added Oelrich, this time with no ladybug sticker in hand, “This is definitely one of my favorite events we’ve done.”

GCU Manager of Internal Communications Lana Sweeten-Shutls can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.

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Bible Verse

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

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