Mac McMullen went from being the accreditation specialist with the Largo Police Department to the battalion commander of 700 soldiers in a matter of days last year.
McMullen, 49, spent the past year in Iraq. It was difficult work: The soldiers of the 535th Military Police Battalion out of Garner, N.C., managed the detainee operations at Camp Cropper just outside Baghdad. They managed about 4,000 detainees a day.
Around Christmas, McMullen wished he had something to boost troop morale. That's when boxes filled with gifts arrived from the city of Largo.
There were phone cards, DVDs, board games, flashlights, bungee cords and a host of other items soldiers can't get in Iraq.
"For my soldiers, support from loved ones and citizens is what helps to make the mission a success," said McMullen, who returns to work in Largo in a few weeks. "It just means the most to soldiers."
To show his gratitude, McMullen presented Largo city commissioners with a plaque at their Tuesday meeting. Enclosed in the plaque is a small American flag that was flown over Army headquarters in Baghdad.
"It's gratifying to know that people back home support and recognize our soldiers," McMullen said. "It was a great morale builder."
Recently retired Largo police Capt. James Precious, 58, spearheaded the effort to send the gifts to McMullen's battalion. Largo city employees donated nearly $3,000. Precious and his wife, Sheila, then went shopping for three days, looking for "creature comfort" items.
"I just know what it's like to be thousands of miles from home in an economy and culture so foreign to your own," said Precious, who spent 2001 in Bosnia as a U.N. peacekeeper. "Being that far from home and to get a package tells you that someone is thinking of you and is grateful for what you are doing."
After Precious gathered the items, Brian Buxton, owner of Largo's Buxton Properties Inc., paid to ship nearly 50 boxes to Iraq.
"We are in complete support of our troops," Buxton said. "Everyone in our office, regardless of their position or thoughts on the conflict, are in support of our troops. We were glad to be available and to help out."
This was McMullen's second stint in Iraq. In 1994, he left the Army as a captain and entered the civilian world. But shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, he received a letter from the Army ordering him back to active duty in two weeks. A major at the time, McMullen was part of the initial American assault in Iraq.
"After being deployed, you realize how special this county is," said McMullen, a descendent of one of Pinellas County's first families. "I am proud to be an American citizen and to have the support of our citizens."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or firstname.lastname@example.org.