‘A little box of home’ for local cop on duty in Iraq | SierraSun.com

‘A little box of home’ for local cop on duty in Iraq

Emma Garrard/Sierra Sun Town of Truckee employees Shanna Kuhlemier, Sheri Deihl, officer Lisa Johnston and sgt. Martin Schneider pack boxes to send to sgt. Dan Johnston and his unit last week at Town Hall. Johnston is currently serving in the special forces in Iraq. Six boxes of goods were donated by local businesses, friends, family and co-workers and will be sent Dec. 11.

Stuck in dusty Iraq, Truckee police Sgt. Dan Johnston got a glimpse of home recently. He pulled up the Caltrans Webcam on the Internet and saw it was snowing in town.

And as Johnston currently pulls his second tour of military duty in harm’s way, his co-workers at the Town of Truckee plan on giving the Green Beret something he can get his hands on. What started as one Christmas care package for Johnston has turned into at least six or seven packages.

Johnston was called to active duty in May and left Truckee in August to serve with the U.S. Army’s special forces. This is his second tour overseas, said Shanna Kuhlemier, the town’s record technician. Johnston, a Green Beret reservist, served in Afghanistan from July 2003 to July 2004.

Johnston was part of a 10-person Green Beret outfit patrolling Afghanistan’s mountainous border with Pakistan ” perhaps the country’s most dangerous area.

The rigorous tour earned Johnston the Bronze Star for valor in direct combat.

Now he is in Iraq with the holidays in full swing here at home. So Kuhlemier sent out an e-mail to town employees a week ago about the care package she and Johnston’s wife, Lisa Johnston, were putting together. They received an overwhelming response.

Town staff dropped off DVDs with funny messages written on post-it notes, packages of socks, beef jerky and other snacks for Johnston at Kuhlemier’s office, she said. The aroma of coffee filled the room ” “Starbucks coffee,” Kuhlemier said, “apparently the coffee’s not good over there.”

The goal is to get the care packages in the mail by Dec. 11 in order for Johnston to receive them by Christmas, said Lisa Johnston, a community services officer with the Truckee police.

They’re “little boxes of home,” said Lisa, who married Johnston in May when he was able to get a two-week leave of absence.

The time apart has been tough, she said, but the newlyweds make it work by communicating through e-mail, phone calls a couple times a week and talking via Web cam.

“It gets depressing because he’s fighting all the time,” she said.

There are sighs of relief everyday when Lisa sees that Johnston has signed on to his e-mail account. Lisa said she can’t reveal any specifics about exactly what Johnston is doing in Iraq or where he is located.

“He tells me he’s hunting terrorists,” she said.

Lisa said she’s looking forward to the holidays next year, as Johnston is tentatively scheduled to come home in March 2007.

Johnston has been in law enforcement for 26 years and is one of the original sergeants of the Truckee Police Department since 2001. Before that, he was in the Army’s special forces for eight years during the 1980s. Although he traveled to Thailand and South America in those years, Johnston never saw combat. In 2003, Johnston signed up for the Army Reserves.

Meanwhile, Johnston has kept his sense of humor but misses home, his wife said. Some of the town personnel are also making a scrapbook with personal messages and photographs to send over with the care package, Kuhlemier said.

“He knows something is coming,” Lisa said. “But it’s a surprise.”

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