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Life, Liberty, and Cherry Pie over the Afghanistan Sky

MichelleRuehl-photoThere’s just something transporting about Michigan cherries – the sweet and tart summertime flavor of cherry jam, cherry wine, or cherry pie can bring you back home and to a place of comfort.

Growing up in Detroit, I took the Cherry Festival for granted, but through the years as I grew up and moved away to serve in the Air Force, my Mom has been sending me sweet reminders of home. She’d mail me Cherry Republic cherry jam or Cherry Republic pancake syrup to my base in Colorado. These gifts made me smile and they made me nostalgic for the mid-west summer nights. This year was slightly different, however, because my fiancé Justin and I both deployed for six months to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. After five and a half months of chow hall food, anything tastes delicious, but on a few occasions, we would get to the mail tent and see a box labeled “Cherry Republic” and I’d feel extra excited, knowing it was sent with love from Michigan.

One hot day in July of 2014, I opened a cardboard box from Justin’s mom, sifted through the packing paper and found some Cherry Republic Salsa and Cherry Republic Hiker’s (trail) Mix. I fly an airplane that has several crew members, and when I had it, I took the salsa on flights to share with everyone when they needed a pick-me-up. Our young military troops are so dedicated to their jobs and they often work long hours without time to break for meals. Salsa may not seem like much, but it was one way to take care of my crew members, by sharing a little piece of home.

As my tour came to an end, my fiancé and I learned that: the Commander had selected us to fly an aircraft out of the combat zone, through the middle east and Europe, across the Atlantic, and home to California. I knew we’d face long hours and need some snacks, so I threw the salsa, the chips and trail mix into my helmet bag for the journey back to the United States.  I flew the aircraft out of Bagram Air Base on our final day in combat,. As we neared the border, I reached into my helmet bag and pulled out the Cherry Republic salsa. We cracked open the jar and dipped a few chips into it; it was our last meal in Afghanistan. As we crossed the border and left the war zone, I felt the weight lift from my shoulders – we had made it out and we were on our way back home. My fiancé grabbed a camera and we took a picture to send home to our moms, just to let them know we were thinking of our families and that their small treat had brought smiles to our faces thousands of miles away.

Thanks to all the moms out there who send Cherry Republic halfway around the world! Here’s to "Life, Liberty, Beaches and Pie" over the skies of Afghanistan.

– Michelle Ruehl