LUMBERTON — While retirement is for relaxing, Navy veteran David Wagner spends some of his giving back to the military something he would have wanted for himself when he served.
For the past two years, Wagner has been sending care packages to men and women serving in the U.S. military around the world.
He currently is sponsoring 76 in the military — 18 sailors, 22 soldiers, 16 Marines, nine airmen and 11 members of the Coast Guard. These service members are in nine countries, including Kuwait, Afghanistan and South Korea. They’re on eight ships and at 10 stateside military commands.
Wagner was a Vietnam-era veteran, having served from 1972 to 1975 in active duty and 1979 to 1981 in the Navy Reserves. It was after Wagner retired from Quickie Manufacturing Corporation in August 2014 that he decided that he wanted to help local people serving in the military. Through mutual friends and on Facebook he found Michael Oxendine, who was going into Army basic training. He sent letters and care packages during his time in training.
When Oxendine was stationed South Korea, Wagner asked if there was anyone there who would be interested in receiving care packages. Oxendine sent six names and it “blew up” from there. Wagner has sent more than 200 packages sent.
“It started with Michael and trickled down like a domino effect,” Wagner said.
Wagner’s only requirement to be a recipient for his care packages is communication. He asks them to contact him once a week and to let him know if they are being deployed.
“This is my own money so I don’t think it’s too much to ask for,” he said.
He mainly uses Facebook as a means to communicate but he also uses text messages and email. Wagner keeps a Facebook page just to find and contact different military members. Most of his page is devoted to what they are doing for the country.
“It’s not my page, it’s theirs,” he said.
Wagner downplays his contributions but speaks energetically when discussing the men and women who benefit from a simple care package.
“You would be surprised at how many who haven’t ever received a care package before,” he said. “I’ll be honest, sometimes I sit here and just cry.”
Wagner stuffs the packages with items ranging from food and toiletries to calendars, books and crossword puzzles. He said that in his first package he sends a letter introducing himself, discussing his military career and explaining what they can expect from him and what he will expect from them. He also asks for suggestions of what they will want in their packages. He said the most requested items are Slim Jims and Lance crackers. Wagner tries to pack as much as possible in the packages.
“I usually spend 30 minutes on each package,” he said.
Wagner said he is devout southern Baptist, but reaches out to military of all religions. He said one of his sailors sent him a message saying that he was feeling down and requested a Bible blessed by a Catholic priest.
“They are all serving for our country,” Wagner said.
Wagner said most of his packages include about $50 worth of items, and that is mostly his money although he occasionally gets donations.
Wagner gives presentations to churches and schools as a way to encourage them to send care packages as well. He provided handouts on what items are good and bad, what they might need and how to compress items in the free flat rate shipping that he uses.
Wagner is currently a substitute teacher for the Public Schools of Robeson County. Last year he got his students involved around Christmas by having them write letters to put in the packages. He said that it’s something he wants to do every year.
Tommy Johnson, a special education teacher at Fairgrove Middle School in Fairmont, is the father of two Army soldiers, both of whom Wagner sponsors.
“It consumes him,” said Johnson. “I go to his house and it’s all packing and packages.”
Wagner shrugs is off as a duty.
“I don’t bask in the glory of what I do, but praise them for what they do in serving our country,” Wagner said.
Reach Tomeka Sinclair at 910-416-5865.