Pat Jacobs, Santa Claus to 700

Pat Jacobs writes a note to a soldier in Afghanistan as she wraps holiday packages to send to her son's unit, part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
Pat Jacobs writes a note to a soldier in Afghanistan as she wraps holiday packages to send to her son's unit, part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. (Photos By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)
By Carol Morello
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 13, 2005

CULPEPER, Va. -- Shoeboxes wrapped in cheery Christmas paper are stacked eye-high in a corner of Pat Jacobs's small living room, even blocking the front door.

The packages, destined for troops serving in Afghanistan, hold small items whose absence is deeply felt at desert and mountain bases with no Post Exchanges nearby. Socks, disposable razors, paperback books, and salty and sweet snacks are stuffed into boxes inversely proportional in size to the rank of their recipients. The bigger boxes are labeled for privates, the smaller ones for officers.

Pat Jacobs didn't start out to play Santa Claus to about 700 soldiers serving with her son, Scott, in his unit of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. But after he started e-mailing her requests from his buddies, it snowballed into a project that has consumed most of the year.

"What other female has got 700 sons?" said Jacobs, 54, who has had to work seven days a week cleaning houses to buy enough gifts for everyone in the unit, making up the shortfall that donations do not cover.

"It ain't about me. What it's about is, the soldiers in Afghanistan will not be like the boys of the Vietnam era. They won't be forgotten. I won't let them be forgotten."

For all the magnetized "Support Our Troops" ribbons stuck on the backs of automobiles, much of the actual support has fallen on the shoulders of a slender segment of society. Donations to Jacobs's shoebox project, for example, have been made largely by a few family friends, local fraternal groups and churches, and veterans who remember what a package from home means.

And most of the donors are from Culpeper, a town of about 10,000 people 70 miles southwest of the White House. For them, it was a chance to show their gratitude to the troops.

When Kitty Whitman read a story about Jacobs in the local paper, she asked members of her tiny Episcopal church to fill 20 shoeboxes.

Instead, they prepared 30. The inspiration, she said, was Jacobs.

"She's a ball of fire with a mission," said Whitman, the wife of a retired Air Force colonel. "She makes you want to get off your derriere and support the guys in Afghanistan so they will know this Christmas that a little spot on the map called Culpeper, Virginia, didn't forget them."

A black POW-MIA flag flies beneath the American flag on a pole in Jacobs's front yard, reflecting her deep military roots. Her father was a drill sergeant. She has three brothers, each of whom served in one of three service branches. When she graduated from high school in 1969, most of the boys she grew up with shipped out to Vietnam; many never returned.

Now, Jacobs keeps a photograph of her 29-year-old son, dressed in desert camouflage, in a plastic envelope sewn onto a blue pillow embroidered with red and white stars and the motto, "My Hero."

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