Share a message of gratitude

“Thank you for your service and your sacrifices. It’s an honor .”

You are invited to help share a message of thanks and gratitude with our country’s men and women in uniform during a family style celebration being planned by the founder of “Boatsie’s Boxes” for Saturday, July 2 from 9:45 a.m. until 2 p.m. on the grounds of Cabela’s at The Highlands.

“Operation Beat the Heat” is an event with two equally important missions: share a message of thanks with our men and women in uniform – and their loved ones, and to personally honor all our military – our heroes. At 1 p.m. we will hold a special activity meant to recognize and thank all our service men and women who have sacrificed so much to keep us free,” explained the Ohio Valley’s own Gail “Boatsie” Van Vranken, founder of the grassroots military support organization “Boatsie’s Boxes.”

“It starts just before 10 and will be over around at 2 p.m. The fundraising part of the event is being called ‘Operation Beat the Heat 2011’, and the very special, ‘Honor Our Troops’ ceremony is also planned as part of that celebration,” offered Boatsie. “Everybody is invited. It’s going to be a great time.”

Activities will include such highlights as face painting, clowns, balloons, T-shirt sales, raffles and tours of military vehicles and equipment.

Refreshments will be available.

Raffle prizes will include gift cards from Cabela’s: one in the amount of $1,500 and five in the amount of S100 each.

A gift card from Kroger for S500 will also be raffled.

A 50/50 drawing will also be held following the honor ceremony which will begin at 1 p.m.

In addition to providing a site for the large celebration, Cabela’s has coordinated an effort with Boatsie’s Boxes organizers to provide shoppers direct access to items included in wish lists from the troops who will be on the receiving end of the “Operation Beat the Heat.”

Donations of items for the troops from the public will be accepted at collection stations on the grounds of the event area.

The wife of Navy veteran Jim Van Vranken, and as the mother of their son, Patrick, who is a senior master sergeant in the Air Force, “Boatsie” knows what it is to be part of our country’s military family and how important it is to provide strong grassroots support for the men and women in uniform.

It was while their son Patrick was stationed in Baghdad, now seven years ago, that she became aware of a very real need for additional basic personal care items among the military patients in a hospital there than could be addressed through traditional resources.

Patrick asked for her help in making an effort to meet those needs in some small way.

He had no idea what would come of that exchange; neither of them did.

Boatsie’s basement soon became the hub of a volunteer effort that continues to reach directly into military camps large and small – urban and remote – where American troops are deployed across such war torn countries as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Seven years later the arrival of seemingly ordinary and obviously well-traveled brown cardboard boxes with the distinctive “Boatsie’s Boxes” identification stamp are a welcomed sight in the eyes of America’s military personnel.

“In an average week we fill and send out some 50 boxes,” she offered, noting that the organization recently sought and earned a nationally registered status as a 501(3) charity making the business end of the volunteer operation more formal and clearly structured.

Financial help needed to sustain this year round volunteer and donation driven grassroots operation is in large part why the public is being asked to support Boatsie’s Boxes through “Operation Beat the Heat” by joining in the fun at the local fundraiser on July 2 on the grounds of Cabela’s.

The celebration on July 2 will begin with the dramatic arrival of a Blackhawk helicopter being flown in to the site by members of the West Virginia Army National Guard’s Company C, 1/150th Aviation Assault Battalion.

This celebration holds very special meaning for this group of soldiers as 40 of their ranks- all local residents from Ohio and West Virginia – were deployed on a peacekeeping mission to Kosovo in February of this year. This same West Virginia Army National Guard Company was deployed in 2005 and 2006 to Iran and Iraq, for air assault missions as well as being responsible for the safe transportation of troops and vital supplies.

Several unique and quite large military transportation vehicles are also being brought to the hilltop location for the July 2nd event by troops from the West Virginia Army National Guard resources maintained at the Moundsville Armory.

The event will likely strike a special note with the families and friends of the 40 members of Co. C, 1 – 150th Aviation Assault Unit of the West Virginia Army National Guard who were deployed on a peacekeeping mission to Kosovo in February of this year.

This is not a new experience for some of the personnel.

This same group was deployed in 2005 and 2006 to Iraq and Iran. Their function at that time included traditional air assault missions, as well as and troop and supply transport.

The force is routinely headquartered near the Ohio County Airport. The ship they specialize in working with is the UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopter: conducting flight operations, training and maintenance. The man in charge of the aviation component of the 772nd Troop Command is Lt. Col. Larry A. Graham.

Finding an opportunity to say thank you to our country’s military in a very public way is something organizers at the Ohio Valley’s own grassroots military support organization Boatsie’s Boxes are always pursuing – whether in advance of a holiday season or in pursuit of an effort to make the heat of a desert region’s day less taxing.

Event organizers sought out the high traffic venue at The Highlands to substantially increase its exposure to the public, which locating the celebration site on Cabela’s grounds is expected to bring, and will also allow for large very specialized military vehicles to be included for public review.

“We really hope to see you at our party on the second of July. We are calling it Operation Beat the Heat 2011, and we can use as many supporters coming to the event as we can get. I really hope we see you there. It’s going to be a lot of fun for everyone and will be a wonderful way to thank our men and women in uniform. We want to thank them for all they do to protect us and our nation.”

“It’s going to be a great way to send a genuine message of thanks to our men and women in uniform – and to their loved ones – for the many sacrifices they make every day to protect our nation and our freedoms,” said Boatsie recently.

This organization’s volunteer efforts are always centered on making everyday life a bit easier or at least a little more comfortable for our nation’s military personnel, particularly those deployed to the Middle East. The approach is always kept emotionally uplifting, friendly and positive.

Supporting our nation’s military personnel in ways traditional resources cannot, finding ways to thank them and their loved ones for their sacrifices pretty much describes the reasons for this organization’s existence, and why its efforts have been so strongly supported by just about everyone who learns of its existence and purpose since its founding in 2004.

“Cabela’s is honored that Boatsie and her dedicated group of volunteers have chosen Cabela’s to host Operation Beat the Heat. We invite everyone to come to Cabela’s to honor our service men and women, support this great effort, and help get the needed supplies to our troops,” said Joe Neary, general manager of Cabela’s at The Highlands.

He also noted the store is sponsoring a “Hometown Heroes Event” from June 29th through July 1st, which highlights offering discounts to all military, veterans, law enforcement and first responders.

Additional information about “Operation Beat the Heat” is available through the Boatsie’s Boxes website at or by calling 304-232-5277.