Soccer players send care packages to Iraq

by: Vern Uyetake, Assistant coach Rick Groulx, far left, and team mom Judi Colson, far right, were on hand recently to help the Lake Oswego girls soccer team pack care packages for some of our troops stationed in Iraq. Colson’s son Devon is there working as a jet mechanic for the Marines.

The Lake Oswego girls soccer team always seems to come up with something noble for its team project each year.

Last year, it was relief aid for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. This year, the girls decided to send care packages to some of our troops in Iraq.

This year's project came courtesy of assistant coach Rick Groulx, who fought in the Vietnam War and has considerable compassion for anyone who's called to fight in a war. When he found out that Devon Colson, the brother of Lakers player Kat Colson, was stationed in Iraq, Groulx decided to spring to action.

He convinced the Lake Oswego players to gather an assortment of everyday items - like batteries, DVDs and candy bars - things that could come in handy for a person stationed overseas. After spending six weeks on the gathering portion of the project, the players boxed up all of those items last Thursday and shipped them off to Devon Colson and his military mates in Iraq.

'When I was in Vietnam, packages from home were always a blessing and made life a little bit easier,' Groulx said.

The care package idea 'came to my mind very quickly,' the coach said. 'I spent a year in Vietnam during the heaviest fighting in '68, and we didn't get stuff as often … It definitely boosts your morale a lot to get these kinds of things.'

The coaches and players had hoped to send off the packages by late September. But everyone's busy schedule during that time forced them to delay the mailing until late last month, when they had an off-day after playing games on back-to-back days.

It was a good way for everyone to spend a day off.

'Yes, it is. It's a good citizenship thing and I think the girls are really behind it. I know Kat's brother will really enjoy it,' Groulx said.

Devon Colson, who is on his second tour in Iraq, works as an F18 mechanic at an air base there. As luck would have it, it's one of the safest jobs in a country where U.S. soliders are prime targets for ambushes.

'It's scary and unrealistic how people can die over there,' Kat Colson said.

'Actually, it's safer over there than living in California,' Groulx stated, apparently quoting some statistics he saw somewhere.

Undaunted by the risk factor, Devon Colson knew by the time he was a junior in high school that he wanted to be a Marine, said his mother, Judi Colson.

'We didn't take it seriously,' Mrs. Colson said. 'We just figured it was something he was throwing out there. By his senior year … he said, 'I've researched this and this is what I want to do.' '

Like his younger sister on the soccer team, Devon Colson was an athlete when he attended Lake Oswego High School in the early 2000s. But that was long enough ago that no one on the soccer team really knew who Devon Colson was. Most of them knew that Kat had a brother stationed in Iraq, but that's about all they knew. Now, they know a lot about Kat's brother, thanks to Groulx's initiative.

'It wasn't me or my mom. It was Rick who really pushed this,' Kat Colson said. '(But) I thought it was really cool that everyone got involved.'

Being seven years apart in age, Devon and Kat weren't real close when they were growing up. Ironically. they've gotten much closer now that Devon is stationed overseas.

'When he was here I wasn't around him much,' Kat said of her brother. 'But since he left, I've gotten a lot closer to him when I talk to him on the phone … It's more special now because I can actually have a relationship with him now.'

Judi Colson played a big part in this year's project but she didn't want to take any of the credit.

'I want this to be about (the girls). This is all their project,' she said.

And she was amazed at how eager they were to participate.

'I'm absolutely overwhelmed by everyone of the girls and their families. Everyone came forward with mounds of stuff,' Mrs. Colson said.

'Having all of this community support really makes it easier having (Devon) over there. It's a very wonderful thing.'

To the girls, Devon Colson and his military mates seemed like heroes. But mom says it's not quite that glamorous for her son.

'No, he's just doing what he really, truly believes in,' she said.