Throughout February and March, Girl Scouts can be seen outside grocery stores and other public places in their decorated green vests selling their famous cookies. But the money they earn from these sales does not just serve as a fundraiser for their troops: Some of it is set aside to pay for cookies to send to the military and various charities through the I CARE program.


This year, Troop 784, the largest troop in Hesperia with 17 girls, raised enough money to buy 34 cases of cookies -- 408 boxes -- to donate to military personnel and the homeless veteran population. This amount was the highest volume of I CARE in Hesperia this year. Their secret? Asking customers if they would like to donate their change from buying a $4 box of cookies to the I CARE program.


"It's hard to get people to actually buy a whole box of cookies and give them away," said Denise La Page, who has been a leader of the troop for six years. "So what we found is that it's a lot easier to ask for their change."


Tying their trip into Memorial Day, 10 members of the troop delivered half of the cookies in person to soldiers at the March Air Reserve Base on May 26. Some of the boxes will remain on base for soldiers preparing for deployment, while others will be shipped in increments to those already deployed.


After delivering their cookies, the Girl Scouts were in for a surprise. With the invitation of Lt. Col. Kenneth Goode, they toured a C-17 aircraft, met the pilot and tried on a parachute.


"The last thing I expected was for the lieutenant colonel to invite us to get on a C-17 and tour an aircraft that actually flies overseas on a regular basis," said Brook Flagg, who has been co-leader of the troop for four years.


The girls said they were impressed as well.


"It was fun," said Rebecca La Page, 10, who has been a Girl Scout for five years. "I liked how we got to go on a plane and we got to try on the parachutes."


After visiting the active-duty soldiers, the Girl Scouts headed over to the U.S. Vets shelter on base to deliver the remaining half of the cookies, as well as handmade thank-you cards, to veterans at the site. According to Flagg, the U.S. Vets shelter intends to donate a portion of the cookies they received to a nearby battered women and childrens shelter.


Flagg said she thought the trip had an impact not just on the soldiers, but also on the members of Troop 784 who attended.


"I think that they came away with a real heightened appreciation for military personnel that maybe they didn't have before," she said. "I think that it was a unique experience for all of them."


This is only one of the many projects that the troop has completed, and the majority of the funds from selling over 8,000 boxes of cookies this year goes toward troop outings, which include ice skating, going to movies, rock climbing and camping trips, among other adventures.


"We go to the San Diego Zoo, and we go to the Hesperia Zoo," said Serenity Flagg, 9, a Girl Scout for four or five years. "We spent the night [at the Hesperia Zoo]. We also spent the night at a museum."


Because some of the Girl Scouts have been on the same troop for about five years and spend so much time together during these activities, Brook Flagg said the girls are a tight-knit bunch.


"I want [being a Girl Scout] to be a big part of their lives," she said. "It's nice to have a group of people that [my kids] can say they grew up with, and many of them share the same values."