When most teenage boys turn 15 years old, they're only thinking about themselves. Not Ben Sampson, of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.
Ben, who just entered his sophomore year at Oconomowoc High School, celebrated his birthday Aug. 18, but instead of asking his buddies for presents, he asked them to bring items to send to his neighbor, Maj. Jack Melvin, who is currently deployed with the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 32nd Military Engagement Team in the Middle East.
Ben and his mother, Angela, brainstormed some ideas and ultimately decided to collect snacks, candy, sports memorabilia and other items to show their support for their neighbor and his family.
"We thought this would be great, because Jack has to be away from home for a year," Angela Sampson said. "We wanted to give him a piece of home."
Ben and his friends were up to the task. They bought sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, beef jerky, playing cards, granola bars, gum, licorice, pretzels and laundry detergent to name just a few items. Ben and his family also reached out to the Green Bay Packers and the Wisconsin Badgers who both sent their own care packages on Ben's behalf. And Ben's great uncle acquired an autographed football from Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, two baseballs signed by Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks and a game-used signed jersey from Norichika Aoki, a former Brewers outfielder.
"This is kind of typical of Ben," Mrs. Sampson said. "He usually thinks of other people before he thinks about himself."
Ben and his friends traditionally just exchanged money on their birthdays.
"Instead of asking for presents from all of my friends and exchanging twenties, I decided I wanted to something that was more worthwhile," he said.
His act of generosity may be the start of something bigger among his friends.
"He had a couple friends that were very interested," his mother said. "One of them wants to go into the military and a couple of the moms said, 'I think this is a great idea. I think we're going to run with this too.'"
Ben has an appreciation for military service because his father served in the Army. He felt a special connection to Melvin and his family because he babysits the major's daughters.
"I think it would be really hard to leave your family for a year or more," he said.
The 15-year-old's act of kindness was much appreciated by the deployed Soldiers of the 32nd Military Engagement Team, including Melvin.
"It is great to see a boy at this age do something so selfless for people he barely knows," Melvin said. "Seeing a 15-year-old giving up gifts for those overseas is something you don't hear of very often, if at all."
Melvin said it was humbling to have that kind of support back home, and as a token the Soldiers' appreciation, they collected their own package to send back to Ben. Some wrote letters, and they're also sending him his own "boonie" hat with captain rank, as well as unit coins and patches as well as rank and other uniform insignia.
Ultimately though, Ben only asked for one thing in return.
"I hope they can come home safe," he said.
The approximately 65 Soldiers of the 32nd Military Engagement Team and Base Defense Operations Center deployed to Kuwait and Jordan last spring