By Laura McAlister
It’s been just over two years since their son and brother was killed in Afghanistan, but the Rivers family is still diligently sending care packages overseas.
Now the packages are going to young Marines and other soldiers on active duty. The project started as a way for the family, parents Charon and Tom and daughter Rachel, to show support for those serving while also remembering Thomas E. Rivers Jr., who was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan on April 28, 2010.
Their support of those serving overseas has grown in the last two years. In January, Rachel and her parents formed a nonprofit, Support Our Soldiers Alabama, to help grow their efforts to support Marines and other U.S. soldiers and also encourage patriotism at home.
“It kind of started with my preliminary pageants for Miss Alabama,” said Rachel, a 20-year-old student at the University of Alabama and Thomas’ younger sister. “You have to have a platform, and I wanted to do something for Thomas.”
The family packs the care packages from their Hoover home. They include just about anything they can think of the troops would want.
“It depends on if they’re on the frontline or on base,” Rachel said.
For those serving on the frontline, they send necessities such as hand wipes, shoestrings, socks, T-shirts and, depending on the time of year, hand and feet warmers. When it comes to those stationed at bases, they send items like sports equipment, magazines, cards and books.
No matter where the packages are going, all include Thomas’ story, which wouldn’t be complete without some Scripture as well.
Thomas was a graduate of Briarwood Christian School. Though academics really weren’t his thing, the Marines certainly were. In fact, his parents say there is nothing else he ever wanted to do.
“In the ninth grade he wrote a paper about why he wanted to be a Marine,” Charon said. “The Marines was just for him. He was quite different there than in high school.”
While Thomas struggled in school, he excelled in the Marines. In his ninth grade paper, he said, “I believe joining the Marines would be a good experience for me because it will teach me to rely on God to make it through.”
He joined the Marines after he graduated in 2007 and was deployed to Iraq in 2008.
The young man described by his family as “quite the character” would return home, but the second deployment would prove different.
Thomas left for Afghanistan in March 2010. Charon said she had a bad feeling the day he left. Thomas’ phone calls from the frontlines didn’t help ease her worry.
“It just didn’t feel right,” Charon said. “When we would get calls, he was always very serious. We knew he was in a bad area.”
While Tom said Thomas had his fun side — he cites several YouTube videos as examples — he said the day of his son’s death really shows the Christian and man Thomas had grown to be.
Thomas was a patrol leader on what would become his last mission. The Marine assigned to stay on watch was “exhausted,” Charon said. Thomas volunteered to take his watch, though as a leader he wasn’t required to do so.
It was on that watch that Thomas was killed by in IED.
His parents received the news early the morning of April 28.
“Tom was going to get coffee when he saw the Marines coming up to the house,” Charon said. “He told me to put on my robe, and I just crumbled. They didn’t have to say anything.”
The news was heartbreaking for the Rivers family, but they couldn’t be prouder of the stories they heard about their son after his death.
“The night before, he was studying the book of John,” Tom said. “The verse was talking about expressing love. When his friend was tired, Thomas took over. He was a Marine’s Marine, but he always kept his faith.”
The Rivers family now smiles when they think of Thomas and his life. They remember the fun-loving character, as well as the Marine, and especially the Christian he was.
They hope Support Our Soldiers Alabama will spread Thomas’ love for country and God. Charon said they aren’t pushing their Christian messages in the care packages sent overseas, “but it’s there for those who need it,” she said.
Each care package costs about $20-25 plus postage. Support Our Soldiers sends about 40 packages a month now, though Charon said she’d love to see that amount increase.
For more information about Support Our Soldiers and how to help, visit www.supportoursoldiersalabama.org.
SOS of Alabama To Host First Fundraiser
Support our Soldiers Alabama will host its first fundraiser Memorial Day week.
The family suspected the event would be a small, church get-together to raise funds for the organization, Charon Rivers said, but it’s turned into much more.
The fundraiser will be May 23 at 6 p.m. at Briarwood Presbyterian Fellowship Hall. The keynote speaker is Gov. Robert Bentley.
The Memorial Day dinner will include barbecue catered by Shane’s Rib Shack. Tickets are $25 per person. All funds raised will go to purchase and deliver care packages to troops serving overseas.
For more information, visit www.supportoursoldiersalabama.org.