CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Araya Ayala was once a star softball player at Flour Bluff High School.
In her last at bat three years ago, she hit two home runs. Solid.
Soon after, she swapped her softball uniform for a military uniform.
Araya now serves with the army’s elite 82nd Airborne Division in Poland in support of Ukraine. It was deployed just after the Russian invasion of that country on February 24.
Back home, her grandmother, Viola Ayala, expressed her understandable concern about Araya’s mission.
“I didn’t want her deployed,” she said.
But Ayala accepted it and now beams with pride for her brave granddaughter.
“I’m very proud of her,” she said. “Very proud. I love her and miss her.”
Ayala, who has not seen Araya since last summer, said she thought her granddaughter was comforted to know her grandmother was thinking of her. and pray for her.
“Of course she is in my prayers every second of the day,” Ayala said.
Comfort is also being sent to Ukrainian refugees and American troops like Araya in the form of care packages.
Local veterans and community members pack everything from toothbrushes to beef jerky – anything that can boost the morale of troops overseas.
“I have friends who are active overseas who have received boxes, and it makes their day,” said Devoted Healthcare and Hospice Services volunteer Sydnee Cissna.
“They (the troops) left their families (home). That’s how we can help out,” said volunteer April Magnuson, president of Caldwell Banker Pacesetter Steel Realtors.
“We must continue to help them as much as we can. That’s all we can do,” said Vietnam War veteran Tomas Rendon as he filled boxes with essentials.
Most importantly, this effort to pack and ship these care packages is a demonstration of local love in action.
“They are our warriors over there. And it’s to let them know that we’re thinking of them and caring about them,” said Gregory Kindle, president of Coastal Bend Troop Support.
Kindle’s organization set up this care package assembly line to send many boxes overseas.
Combat veteran JJ De La Cerda, who served two tours of duty during the Iraq War, understands the thoughtfulness that goes into every care package.
“They (veterans and volunteers) are here out of the goodness of their hearts, giving what they can and packing for people they don’t know,” he said.
The Nueces County Veterans Services Officer also knows firsthand what it’s like to have a family member deployed. His nephew, JC Moreno, is also part of the contingent of troops serving overseas in support of Ukraine.
“Getting that care package from someone you don’t know means the world, especially when there’s not much out there,” De La Cerda said.
Family members back home are also reassured to know that complete strangers are rolling up their sleeves to send a piece of home to their loved ones who are currently serving.
“Grateful – very grateful for what they are doing,” Ayala said. “I could see the smile on her (Araya) face. She’s going to have a big smile.”
To donate to the care effort, here is the information for Coastal Bend Troop Support:
609 8th Ave Portland Texas. 78374
PO Box 742 Rockport, Texas. 78381
More Veterans In Focus stories are available here, along with resources for local veterans.