NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Improving the lives of service members overseas, while giving their families peace of mind at home. That’s the current mission of one former sailor from Norfolk, Virginia.
2nd Class Petty Officer Chelsea Mandello says her time in the U.S. Navy opened her eyes and changed her life forever.
“Before the military, I only knew my own perspective. I only knew my own experiences of being an American, of being a college student, of being someone from the Midwest. And after joining the military I was able to see so many other cultures and see how so many other people around the world live.”
Mandello comes from a military family. Her mother served in the Air Force where both of her brothers currently serve.
“I always wanted to have those sea stories of my own.”
So, when Mandello graduated from Ball State University with a degree in journalism, she decided the Navy was best for her because of its journalism program.
“My job was to travel the world and to tell the story from the perspective of the military.”
She went on missions with the U.S. Army and Marines. One mission Mandello will never forget took her to an orphanage in Malaysia.
“We arrived at this orphanage and these were children who had been from villages that had gone through very difficult times. So, some of these children were missing limbs. Some of them had been badly scarred from burns, but when these service members exited the bus, all of these children, all they cared about was just playing and was just showing these service members their pets and was just having fun and wanted them to sit down and color with them. It was just an amazing, amazing opportunity to see these children who, you know, in any other circumstances they wouldn’t be as happy and as joyful as they were, and yet all they cared about was just showing everything they had. I mean, it was amazing.”
Mandello experienced the wonderment of children, to battling the crime of piracy in the Mediterranean. She was at sea during sequestration, a time of slashed military budgets.
“During this time, a lot of deployments were extended from six months to 12 months and that alone decreased morale immensely. This was also a time where postal operations shipping care packages became very relied upon, and it also took quite a lot more time.”
While at sea in 2013, Mandello and her crew members learned a shipment was on the way, a big morale booster. The crew hadn’t received mail from home in three months.
“I got this big box from my mom and I was so excited because I knew everything in that box was something from home, was something she had packed, and I was very excited to get it. So, I rushed it up to my office. I tore it open, but I was disappointed because everything in it had gone bad. Things had broken. Things had melted.”
Mandello realized she wasn’t the only service member this happened to. She also learned no service existed that could guarantee care packages be delivered in good condition to our service members around the world. For this 2nd class petty officer, that was not okay.
“After mustering my courage, I finally launched Troopster, Thanksgiving Day in 2015.”
Mandello calls Troopster the “Amazon of the military.”
“So, we have an online service where friends and families can go on. They can pick different items. If their son or daughter really loves a certain type of magazine and they don’t see it on the site, they can reach out to us and request that magazine and we will go out in the middle of the night and find that just so it could be a part of that care package.”
Mandello goes on to say, “We work very hard to make sure that these care packages are filed with items that will make the trip. We make sure that they’re filled with items that the service members need, filled with items that we know won’t break, won’t bust, won’t go bad, and even everyone who works at Troopster are prior veterans. So, we’re all service members who have been deployed who know what these active-duty service members are going through and it means a lot to us personally.”
Mandello says her nonprofit volunteers and workers also travel the country to help those who may not have support while serving.
“Troopster, even though we provide the service online, we are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. So, we do work heavily with volunteers and we actually travel across the nation where we work with different businesses and local organizations to hold community-wide pack events. Those pack events, we work with sponsors to send anywhere between 500 – 2,000 care packages often to troops who don’t have that family support network.
“So, if anyone would ever like to work with us in that capacity, we are always more than welcome to talk with them and we love getting the opportunity to help. We work with the chaplains corps for the different military branches to help identify individuals who need that help, who need that extra morale boost.”
For Mandello, service is something she was meant to do.
“I love my job and I loved the experience of getting to serve my country and now, the way I see it, I’m still serving my country but in a new way.”