Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Cookies mean a lot to troops overseas

Yeah, yeah, yeah — I'm writing about Girl Scout cookies again! What of it? Last year I gave you a break and didn't say a word about the hordes of Girl Scouts selling cookies all over La Cañada.

It's their rite of passage, and it's part of what defines us as a community. Little girls in uniforms, going door to door, selling in front of Ralphs and hitting up grandparents. It's Americana at its best. It's something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. You know all those qualities that we think so important to transmit to our kids? Qualities such as enterprise, self-reliance, initiative, fiscal responsibility, creativity and teamwork? They're all found in the Girl Scout cookie sales program. With every purchase of Girl Scout cookies you are investing in children, the community and America.

Some time back, I wrote a story about a serendipitous encounter I had with Sgt. Ramos. At the time he was a returning veteran from Iraq and a former squad leader in 3/5 (3rd Battalion, 5th Marines). Somehow he recognized me as the guy who sent Girl Scout cookies to the Marines during the fight in Fallouja in 2004. He introduced himself and bought me a drink. Since then, he has not stopped thanking me for sending his Marines boxes of Girl Scout cookies.

It wasn't just the cookies that made such an impression. It was the love, the awareness of where they were, appreciating what they were doing, and not forgetting them. Sgt. Ramos is forever grateful for the validation Girl Scout Troop 889 gave his Marines. A validation disguised as Samoas, thin mints and trefoils.

We live our lives in a state of disconnect from the harsh realities that our servicemen and women experience. They are there and we are here, so that's just the way it goes. We distance ourselves from their experience because the hard-detailed reality of their everyday existence and heroism is too vast for our comprehension.

I have been counseling veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder since I returned from Vietnam. It's not always the horrific that creates despondency. Mostly it's the disconnect as we ignore them and go about our lives while they bleed and die.

Believe me, a package from home, a box of Girl Scout cookies, or a simple note, especially from a child, does unimaginable things to soldiers in forward positions.

Let me get back to my story about Sgt. Ramos. He and I became friends. I've spent many hours dealing with his demons, his nightly ghosts that surface, reminding him of three tours in Iraq. There is no cure for PTSD. The best we can hope for is to live, be productive and continue the journey. It's something that you learn to live with. I convinced him to study at Glendale Community College. He made the dean's list, transferred to USC and will receive a master's degree in counseling in June.

Currently he is interning at the Veteran's Administration, helping young veterans deal with PTSD issues. Sgt. Ramos will survive his demons. In turn he will help many young soldiers survive theirs and live productive lives.

This connection began with you, when you bought Girl Scout cookies and delivered them to the Valley Sun. Troop 8891 took them to Carolyn Blashek of Operation Gratitude. She sent them to Sgt. Ramos. He met me, came to Glendale Community College, is getting his master's and will help many veterans at the VA.

The Girl Scouts are out en force selling cookies and will be looking for you. Buy a box or two or 10 and say they are for the troops, or for a program known as the Gift of Caring. No need to deliver them anywhere; the Scout will know what to do.

The chain doesn't break with Sgt. Ramos. It will continue infinitely because of the cookies you sent.


JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at

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