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Stuffed with care: Soldier's family sends stockings to Red Bulls

Family and friends of Spc. Dan Drevnick of Woodbury, who died in July while serving in Iraq, stuffed 200 stockings to send to members of Drevnick's 34th "Red Bull" Infantry Division. Pictured (clockwise from left) are Bri Beasley, Shelby Freese, Roberta Freese, Nikki Montgomery and Charles Freese. (Submitted photo)

Some Minnesota National Guard soldiers in Iraq will receive a special Christmas present.

Stuffed stockings are headed to about 200 troops, compliments of fallen Spc. Daniel Drevnick's family.

Relatives and friends of Drevnick, a Woodbury native who was in Iraq with his 34th "Red Bull" Infantry Division when he died in a July rocket blast, filled stockings with treats, toiletries and photos for other Red Bull troops.

The stockings are expected to arrive on Christmas Eve.

Dubbed "Operation Dan," the effort provides soldiers with token pleasantries of home - including Chapstick, beef jerky and Kleenex - and brings together people who want to participate in a random act of kindness, said Drevnick's mother, Roberta Freese.

"People feel good when they're doing something that shows caring for others," she said.

The idea came to Freese before Thanksgiving. She settled on stockings because Drevnick's family has a tradition of filling stockings with fun, whimsical gifts.

Drevnick's family stuffed the troops' stockings with toothpaste, ear plugs, candy canes, socks and sweets. They also made 18 batches of "puppy chow" snack food.

The shipment includes a Santa hat to be worn by the soldier who distributes the stockings. Drevnick always handed out gifts at Christmas, and the stockings include a picture of Drevnick in a Santa hat.

"Dan was a goofy kid," his mother said. "He had just a wonderful sense of humor. All the soldiers that we talked to remember that about Dan."

The stockings were shipped to Basra by Pack and Mail of Woodbury, at the store's expense. Kathleen Friendt of Pack and Mail said the order became personal. Too often soldiers fighting overseas seem distant, but then something like Operation Dan comes along and creates a sense of connection, she said.

"It was very heartwarming to be a part of it," Friendt said.

Freese said Drevnick's relatives already are considering ways to continue Operation Dan. The Red Bulls are expected home in early 2010, but there will be other troops in Iraq who could receive stockings or other packages next year, she said. Relatives also may expand Operation Dan to other holidays, such as Memorial Day or the Fourth of July.

The family may form a small nonprofit agency to assist with asking local stores and organizations for donations, but Freese said she will take caution to keep the operation manageable.

"From my perspective, I still want it to remain personal because it's a real thing for us," she said. "I don't want it to lose that focus."