CHULA VISTA, Calif. – When Aaron Negherbon opened his email and read a message from a longtime friend and U.S. Marine Corps captain in Afghanistan requesting medical supplies, he took action immediately.
The email read: “Major firefight last night. Medical supplies destroyed or depleted. Resupply could take 6 weeks considering where we are relative to the supply depot. Stethoscopes, gauze, bacitracin and hydro cortisone are the big needs. Any way you can help? We’ll take anything.”
He sent the package to his friend who at the time was leading a unit with 150 marines. “I came to find out that service members were not issued these essential items,” says the 40-year-old Northern California native.
That was the first time Negherbon ever sent a care package to anyone. “As patriotic as I am and was, I just never thought to do it,” he says. That email touched off a process that would lead him to reinvent himself and touch the lives of thousands of service members.
His friend’s response prompted Negherbon to take action on a larger scale to help other service members who needed supplies. “We started to supply this unit with all items that they were asking for. Other commanders were hearing what we were doing and took notice and started requesting items,” he says.
What started in a small scale in his garage at home became TroopsDirect.org in 2010. ”In the government supply chain there’s good or bad, there’s bureaucracies and red tape. We believe that the end user, that unit knows exactly what they need better than anyone does for the task that they have in hand. It is our responsibility to get that item to them when the government system can’t,” he says.
Negherbon’s group would grow to ship to entire companies and battalions in bulk, supporting upwards of 1,000 service members in a single shipment.
Negherbon’s main goal is to support and assist servicemembers on the front lines with critically needed items. Some of the items include stretchers, ballistic eye protection, body armor carriers, medical supplies such as tourniquets, ointment, artificial airways, hygiene products and nutrition products. “Essential staples that would keep Americans healthy, sharp, motivated…and alive,” he adds.
The organization receives daily requests via email, Skype, Facebook and satellite phone in his office and ships the items within seven to 10 days when a military supply chain can sometimes take months. “We’re not knocking the government supply system but sometimes we’re able to do things more efficiently or faster or more precisely than a larger government supply can,” he says.
TroopsDirect has sent over 200 tons of items to troops overseas from their small office in San Ramon, east of Oakland, California. As of their latest IRS filing for 2013, 90 percent of the total organizational expenditures went directly to program expenses. “We’re making a difference every single day. We’re simply about supporting our American forces the best way we know how and until there’s no more war, we’ll be there,” says the father of two.
They also send energy bars, protein shakes, toothbrushes, electronics and other items. “When you send that first package to somebody and you see the positive impact that it has on that individual and all of the people under his command, how do you not send a second package and a forth package… it just continues,” he says. “You don’t think about, you do it. It’s a responsibility that we took as Americans to make this immediate change for our service members,” he said.
Click here to view an email sent from a unit to TroopsDirect requesting a long list of items.
One important item that TroopsDirect gets requested a lot is bright color chalk powder. When soldiers find IEDs on patrol or an area believed to have one, they use powdered chalk to mark the location so that fellow soldiers and civilians avoid the area. “Instead of using bottle caps, rocks, they use this bright color chalk to mark the area safely,” he says. “It is great to get their responses saying, you saved our lives, you saved our limbs.”
The organization ships to unit commanders on the front lines via United States Postal Service. They also work with veteran-owned suppliers like T3 Gear in Chula Vista, where some of the products are manufactured and are shipped. The shipments are paid for with donations and corporate contributions.
Negherbon has left his real estate career to focus on continuing to provide troops with lifesaving items. “It is a weird kind of gratification because TroopsDirect should not have to exist but when you know that an American service member is reaching out to your organization for support and they’re relying on you and we’re able to get that list of items that they need, it makes you feel good when you get that satellite call saying,’ I got the product. Thank you.”
Second Tour is an ABC News digital series profiling the lives of military veterans who are doing unique things in the civilian world. For more stories, click here.
ABC News’ video editor Arthur Niemynski contributed to this report.