By Ethan Forman
DANVERS — Sgt. David Richey is one tough cookie.
He's a drill sergeant with the Army Reserve, serving with Detachment 62, 95th Division in Afghanistan, where he is helping mentor members of the Afghan National Army.
But when Richey, a Princeton, Ky., resident, received a box of Girl Scout cookies — with a heart on it — as he was deploying overseas, it made him smile. So he tucked the heart inside his wallet, where it remains today.
The box of Lemonades came from Danvers Girl Scout Troop 843, and it also carried the name and address of the troop and a big "thank you."
To show his appreciation, Richey sent the Girl Scouts a letter along with a flag that was flown over Camp Alamo, Afghanistan, on Veterans Day 2010. The flag had also been flown on top of "the Ghar," a rocky mountain outside of Kabul.
The Girl Scouts got the flag a few weeks ago, and they have been buzzing about it ever since.
"Awesome," said Ashley Tardiff, 14, who said she has never seen a flag that has flown over Afghanistan before, and she is glad she and other Scouts have made a difference in a soldier's life.
The flag represented a thank-you not only from Richey, but from other soldiers who were moved by what the Girl Scouts did.
"I sent the flag because so many people think the soldiers are the only ones fighting this war, but I know different," Richey wrote in an e-mail on Feb. 24 from Afghanistan.
"As I sit here thinking why I sent the flag, I remember the feeling I got when I was given the box of cookies. Just that little box with a heart and an address let me know I was not alone. I have Troop 843 with me."
While the Girl Scouts have gotten letters from servicemen and servicewomen in the past, they said the flag was by far the neatest thing they have ever received.
"It represents our country, so it's really meaningful," said Lauren Myerson, 13. She and others have been sending these letters and packages since she was in kindergarten, she said.
On a recent visit to Troop 843, the girls were busy writing more letters and decorating boxes of Girl Scout cookies in the Holten Richmond Middle School cafeteria.
"It means a lot," said Sara Jezowski, 13. "I liked they liked our letters. It makes a purpose to it."
"I thought it was so moving they care so much," said Jackie Veatch, another member of the troop.
"It says to them that the soldiers care about them," said Girl Scout Leader Liz Jezowski of Danvers.
The Scouts plan to send these newly decorated cookie boxes with others from other Girl Scouts from around eastern Massachusetts in a sendoff at Hanscom Air Force Base this Saturday, said Cindy Veatch, one of the troop's leaders.
This year, Troop 843 will not be attending the Cookies for a Cause Girl Scout Delivery Day because space is limited at the base. In past years, Veatch said her troop has participated in this event. More than 1,000 Girl Scouts did so last year.
"We actually get to meet the real military people, and we get to meet a real woman in the military," Veatch said. That is a big deal for the Girl Scouts.
In Danvers, Troop 843 raises money to send cookies and letters to troops for Danvers-based Operation Troop Support, which sends care packages to those serving overseas.
The girls, now in the eighth grade, have been sending cookies and writing letters to soldiers since they were Brownies in kindergarten and learning to write, Veatch said.
"It struck me how long the war was going on," she said.
In his e-mail, Richey said he was thankful for the leadership example set by the Scouts, providing a measure of solace for a stranger from Kentucky who has "a strong supportive family at home." Richey now counts Troop 843 as part of his support family.
"These young ladies are the future leaders of our free world," Richey wrote, "and the future is bright."
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by e-mail at email@example.com or on Twitter @DanverSalemNews.