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The war at home


December 11, 2008

The United States Postal Service never counted on Rick Gagliano when it developed the $8.95 Flat Rate Priority Box.

And Gagliano, director of Student Services for 13 years at Milwaukee School of Engineering, never counted on living during one of the longest wars in U.S. history.

The man whose job it is to see that life is busy and fun for students outside the classroom couldn’t bear the thought of soldiers wondering if anybody remembered them. As Gagliano puts it, "Most are 19- and 20-year-old kids."

Out went two e-mail blasts: one inviting anybody in the extended MSOE community who knew soldiers to send in names and addresses. The other invited people to donate candy, gum, CDs and incidentals a soldier would not have access to.

Initially, the idea was for MSOE students to participate, but Gagliano learned there were moms, dads, assorted relatives, friends and fiancés wanting to get involved. How could he say no?

Gagliano, with student volunteers, sorted treats and stuffed those $8.95 boxes. Then came the hard part.

"The first time at the post office, we had 60 boxes," says Gagliano. "We filled out a six-page customs form for each box. It took six hours. Now we fill out the forms ahead of time and the post office clerks don’t hide from us."

Gagliano has become a go-to guy around the country for other groups wanting to duplicate MSOE’s success.

E-mails, letters and photos arrive from surprised, happy package recipients. Several are posted on a wall outside Gagliano’s office. All correspondence is archived for future historians.

Not all news is happy. Since the war began, four soldiers with ties to the MSOE community have died.

For five years, four times a year, the call goes out and supplies come in, including DVDs sent by Hollywood studios. The rugby team compiled a CD of favorite songs.

Illustrating MSOE’s famed technical reputation, juniors Justin Schmierer and Kayla Maclaus created a YouTube video (search "MSOE Troop Care Package Project") of photos soldiers have sent, including one of a group holding an "I Closed Wolski’s" sticker.

Gagliano says, "Just because the war has been relegated to the back-burner, we’re not going to forget these kids."

USPS, take note.


This story ran in the October 2008 issue of: