Books For Boots
It was on a Monday in mid-March of 2023 when I got the call that no parent ever wants to get from their child. The call came from my oldest daughter Mackayla, just days after her 19th birthday. She was crying and it was hard to understand her until I finally made out “Mom … I’m hurt. They found something in the MRI … stress fractures in my hips …” The hardest part of being a parent is hearing your child cry, knowing they are hurt, and knowing there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.
Little did either of us know just how much that phone call would change our lives over the next few months.
Towards the end of her Junior year at Dutchtown High school, Mackayla decided that she wanted to join the United States Marines and become a Reservist to help pay for college at LSU. In anticipation of basic training, she worked out at a minimum of 5 days a week for over a year and always had her physical goals firm in mind. She shipped out to Parris Island from Baton Rouge in late January 2023. She made it through to the first week of Grass week, which is just over halfway through the grueling 13 weeks of basic training these recruits go though, before things went wrong. She found herself going through x-rays and MRI’s and was diagnosed with stress fractures in her hips as she told me in that dreaded phone call.
During this call, she told me she was being dropped from active training and placed into Romeo Company, the medical rehabilitation unit for the Marines at Parris Island. I cannot express just how devastated she was for this to happen. How most all recruits are when this happens, especially since a lot of them have wanted to join the military since they were barely out of diapers. She told me she would be able to call me for a few minutes on Saturday and would have her new mailing address then so we can send her letters and a few things she gets approval for.
What I realized through my daughter’s experience is that when these injured recruits are placed in Romeo, they have approximately two weeks before they will receive any comfort items from family members. It takes about that long for families to receive their recruits’ new address and to be able to gather items and ship via USPS to the address given. And that’s if the family is even able to send items. Some can’t because they just can’t afford to.
I learned that there was a small library specifically for these injured recruits there at Parris Island. As of mid-March, this library consisted of a total of three bookshelves. Most books, if not all, had seen better days a long time ago and this really bothered me. I reached out through various channels and finally got the right contact information for Parris Island so I could get approval for sending books. As I was working on approval, I became aware that recruits could also use movies and music CD’s. These are obviously at the discretion of the drill instructors and commanding officers and are often used as good behavior incentives. Some recruits prefer to do small crafts during their daily down time, and I thought that Books for Boots could help in that area as well. When I realized that the need for books, movies, music, and craft items isn’t limited to just the Marines, but includes other branches as well, I felt like I was drowning. There was absolutely no way my family could afford to ship books for each basic training location, but I knew we could help in some way.
By the end of April, I had shipped over seventy donated books gathered from several amazing people in the area.
My husband and I talked about our options going forward. He encouraged me to start a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Books for Boots, whose sole mission is to provide and ship books, movies, music cd’s, and craft items to injured recruits at basic training locations. This mission not only supports these young adults, but it also supports our military in providing these items so they don’t have to. Two additional members were added to Books for Boots, who happen to be good friends and the moms of Mackayla’s closest friends for the past eight years. These ladies have been instrumental in cheering for our mission and listening and participating in talks about book drives and fundraising.
Thanks to Romeo Company, Mackayla was able to return to active training stronger than ever after spending seven weeks there. She scored an expert level marksmanship during her rifle qualifications, completed the Crucible (the 54-hour event the Marines are renown for), and earned the title of a United States Marine. Seeing her on Family Day, June 22nd, the day before she officially graduated, was just incredible. We all enjoyed our hugs and time spent with her that day, especially after everything she had been through in the five months on Parris Island.
Another emotional event we had on Family Day occurred while stopping by Romeo Company with Mackayla at the request of a commanding officer so we could meet them. We were allowed to walk the halls of the Romeo facility and it was awesome. I have a lot of admiration and respect for these young adults who’ve become injured. These recruits could have chosen to do anything else with their lives, but they chose to specifically enroll and serve in the military instead. I saw several recruits painting a long mural that extends the second floor’s hallways and it was so beautiful. We were able to see therapy dogs come into the female recovery platoon on our visit and again, had to hold in some tears. The girls quickly put down their books and letters and came to chat with the handlers and pet the dogs. Last on the tour was seeing the library they now have available for injured recruits. There were several bookshelves, many holding two rows of books on one shelf because they are waiting on more bookshelves to come in. Prior to June 22nd, we had cleaned, inventoried, and shipped: 304+ books, 181 movies, 22 music cd’s, a small box of acrylic paints and paintbrushes, and a few puzzles.
Seeing the library filled with items made me see just how impactful our actions are.
As we were talking in the library, I watched a young man on crutches tuck a book under his arm and head down the hallway with a smile on his face. I couldn’t help but smile with him.
It was at this exact moment, standing in Romeo Company’s library, that I learned that recruits previously went to medical appointments for checkups and various medical reasons with nothing. Nothing. They would sit and stare at a blank wall for hours, often three to four hours, waiting for their name to be called without a book or magazine to read. Some of these recruits are fighting a battle with depression and anxiety that most of us couldn’t imagine dealing with. This absolutely killed me as I am sure it would kill many parents to think about. But now, at the very least, they have some books, and a good selection if I may add. What we do matters.
Every book, every movie, every sketchbook, every item donated and shipped – it all matters and makes a difference.
Our goals for Books for Boots are to help provide basic training medical rehabilitation units for injured recruits with, at the bare minimum; 500 books, 150 movies, 75 music CD’s, and numerous crafts. After each location has received this amount, the goal is to provide another increment in each and / or maintenance shipments every month to keep inventory at a desired level. This ensures that every recruit has the opportunity to have a good book to read during the wait for doctor appointments, that they have a good selection of movies to choose from for good behavior rewards, CD’s to listen to in the squad bay, and crafts to do on extra down time. While we depend on these items to be donated from generous members in our community, we also depend on donations and sponsorships to help fund our costs, which are primarily shipping costs. We are a small group of unpaid volunteers who take in items, sort, clean thoroughly, inventory, and box up everything to be shipped out. Books for Boots has started having local book and media drives in our community, with plans to have more. Right now, we have over FIFTEEN boxes of books waiting for processing and shipment. We are at a point where we are absolutely desperate for donations and sponsors so we can ship our items out.
As we were leaving Parris Island after graduation, we drove under the famous “WE MAKE MARINES” sign hanging above the road, and I asked Mackayla would she do it all over again if she knew she would get injured. Her response was an instant “absolutely mom, in a heartbeat.”
August 2nd – Bounce with Books for Boots at Airborne X in Gonzales on 8/2/23 from 12-4pm. Mention “Books for Boots” and we will receive a portion of each ticket purchased. We will also be inside and able to receive any book and/or media donations you may have.
August 1st – August 31st – Our designated drop off location for the entire month of August is Pelican Medical Wellness Center. Pelican Medical is owned and operated by a 8 year Marine Reservist Veteran, Sarah Lemoine. Their office is located close to Ralphs Market by Pelican Point: 6473 Hwy LA-44 Suite 104, Gonzales LA, 70737. Hours: 8:00am-4:30pm — Monday-Thursday, 8:00am-12:00pm — Friday
About The Author
Melissa G. Singletary is a former assistant project manager and current stay at home mom for Claire (6) and mom to Mackayla (19). She is a Florida native who lives in Prairieville with her two kids, husband Richard, and rescue dog, a black shepherd mix named Cleo. She is the daughter of a disabled Air Force Veteran and a proud MoM whose daughter is the first female in their extended family to serve in the military and as a Marine. She founded Books for Boots, a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, to help provide books, movies, music cd’s, and craft items to injured recruits at basic training after her own daughter was injured in the spring of 2023.