Soldiers counted down the minutes to Christmas as they tallied donated pogs, small circular paper disks used at the Post Exchange instead of coins, for a North Carolina Boy Scout Troop, Dec. 24.
Spc. Rob Campbell with 230th Brigade Support Battalion, 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, launched the “Pogs for Presents” campaign by placing gift wrapped boxes for pog donations around Forward Operating Base Falcon, here, to support his former Boy Scouts Troop as they raise money for the needy.
“I’m like Santa Claus ringing a bell,” said Campbell. “Only I can’t ring a bell and [the Army] won’t let me wear a Santa suit.”
Troop 223, located in Campbell’s hometown of Southern Pines, N.C., helps needy families by collecting canned goods during the Christmas holiday season.
“I can’t collect can goods, but I can collect money to get the stuff that’s not put in the bins,” said Campbell. “When I was a boy scout it was a big deal for us.”
The former Eagle Scout came up with the idea when he realized that many soldiers did not value the paper coins. He vowed to match the donations dollar for dollar thinking he would raise around $100.
“A lot of [Soldiers] have stacks of [pogs] and unfortunately people don’t really see them as money,” said Campbell. “Everybody’s getting ready to go home and they are packing up and finding them everywhere.”
Campbell tore open the display boxes like a kid on Christmas morning; pouring out a around $214 worth of pogs. The total count was a little more than $265, after adding in cash donations from soldiers that forgot to bring pog donations the day of the count.
“I will go to [the Army Air Force Exchange Service] to [cash-in] the pogs on Christmas and then I will call my wife and tell her to write a check,” said Campbell.
According to Yvonne Ward, AAFES assistant team leader, the pogs can be exchanged at any AAFES location abroad or in the states. The cardboard coins, which display photos of Soldiers of all branches, were adopted in 2002 due to high shipping rates charged on the weight of metal coins.
“It saves taxpayers hundreds of dollars and soldiers can cash them in or take them home for souvenirs,” said Ward.
“I don’t know if it will be a problem cashing them in but I will send the donation regardless,” said Campbell referring to the large amount of pogs donated.
Campbell revealed one Secret Santa when he mentioned that Staff Sgt. Stephanie Brasington of Stafford, Va., gave a donation that almost matched the total value of pogs, raising the amount to $750 for the needy.
“It’s Christmas; to me it just makes sense,” said Brasington.
To Campbell, the importance comes from finding a way to keep his family’s time honored tradition alive even while deployed here in Iraq. His father, brother and uncles were all Eagle Scouts and he said he hopes to continue the legacy.
“I have friends that are involved or will be involved [with the scouts],” Campbell said as he made hand gestures as if he were knocking on wood. “If I have sons one day, I’d like to encourage them to be scouts.”
Story and photo by Spc. Ruth McClary, 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team