It started with a 45-pound care package of Frisbees, toiletries, magazines and snacks sent by Aaron Negherbon to his long-time friend, Capt. Carin Calvin, a career Marine stationed in Afghanistan.
When Calvin shared the items with his troops, Danville resident Negherbon discovered that Marines are often lacking the basics such as toothpaste, toothbrushes and body wash.
That was in April and soon after, Negherbon, who is also a business executive and runs a land-holding business with his father, started Troops Direct to help reach more Marines with his care packages.
He's currently reaching about 1,000 Marines with the help of corporate sponsors such as Starbucks, Muscle Milk, Power Bar and Clif bar. He hopes the organization will expand to reach some 20,000 Marines, as well as people in other branches of the military stationed overseas.
Negherbon holds business meetings out of an office in San Ramon, while the storage and packaging of items happens at his home in Danville.
Danville Patch: Why did you start Troops Direct?
Negherbon: I've always been a very strong supporter of our armed forces. I realized that these guys needed this stuff. These guys are your friend and my neighbor and someone else's son and I want those guys to come back in one piece. I believe that if those protein powder donations make them more alert, or the foot powder donations make their feet more fresh for having to run, then we are also increasing the chance of that solider returning home.
Danville Patch: How are you funding the organization right now?
Negherbon: We are starting to operate off of the donation money that is coming in, but when the donation money runs out I reach for my wallet. If my investment is what it takes, then I'd do it again. I don't put a dime in my pocket.
Danville Patch: What is in the typical care package?
Negherbon: It goes beyond toiletries (like travel sized toothpaste, body wash, toothbrushes, baby wipes and boot powder). We want to supply them with foodstuffs that go beyond the typical rations that they are issued from the Marine corps (like protein powder and Power Bars). And we always try to put treats in every box like a bucket of animal crackers or a Time magazine, a Maxim, Enquirer or something like that. But it's really about the staples.
Danville Patch: Why are Marines lacking in these basic necessities?
Negherbon: It's not that the Marine Corps says get your own stuff. It's just that the way a theater like Afghanistan is laid out it's tough to bring in those supplies. I'm sure that budget comes into play and all those kinds of things, but we just circumvent that and fix that. We're not knocking the Marine Corps at all, we're just picking up where they leave off.
Danville Patch: How do you get the packages from Danville to Afghanistan?
Negherbon: We know that when that box leaves our hands in Danville, that in two and a half to three weeks it will land at the foot of that captain at that base. We box it. We fill out the customs forms. The post office right now is the fastest way. It goes through customs in San Francisco and then it makes its way to Afghanistan. Our vision is to be able to deliver our cargo to Travis Air Force Base (in Fairfield) or to Camp Pendleton in San Diego and have it wheeled up on the back of C5s or Globe Masters that are going over there and get that delivery time cut down to a week, or days.
Danville Patch: Where do you see Troops Direct heading in the future?
Negherbon: The end goal is to be able to pick up where all of the branches of service leave off in supplying to their soldiers. It's going to get to the point, if I can get the support that I need, that the commanders at different levels will be able to go in and shop online on our site and say I need 50 toothpastes, I need three tubes of athletes foot cream, I need 50 pairs of boot laces and I see you've got 50 People magazines sitting there, we'll take one of those. Our vision is to be able to supply every solider overseas with everything and anything they need, real-time, that the armed forces cannot deliver for whatever reason.
Danville Patch: How much have you sent out so far?
Negherbon: In two months we've shipped about a half a ton of product. The average shipment is about 50 to 70 pounds.
Danville Patch: How do you feel seeing how much the organization has grown over the last few months?
Negherbon: It's a lot of work, but it's great work. I couldn't be happier. We all want the best for our troops and I've chosen to act on it instead of just wish for it.
How to donate: Visit Troops Direct to make a CVS gift card donation.
There will soon be a link on Troops Direct where you can donate directly through US Bank.