Many ways to support U.S. soldiers
By Zenaida Serrano Espanol
Advertiser Staff Writer
With the war in Iraq into its second week and hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops deployed, people at home are looking for any way to help support them, from sending care packages with toiletries to thank-you notes. But there are even more ways to help.
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Pet care. The Military Pets Foster Project is an international network of individual foster homes including Hawai'i that will house, nurture and care for the dogs, cats and birds of military personnel: www.netpets.org
Volunteer. The USA Freedom Corps launched a project called "On the Home Front," a new resource for people seeking to support troops, their families and their communities in meaningful ways. For volunteer opportunities: www.usafreedomcorps.gov
Military relief societies. Donate to service charities, including Army Emergency Relief: www.aerhq.org; Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society: www.nmcrs.org; Air Force Aid Society: www.afas.org; Coast Guard Mutual Assistance: www.cgmahq.org
Pre-paid phone cards. Make a donation to provide soldiers free phone cards through Operation Uplink, run by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Foundation: www.operationuplink.org
Gift certificates. Send military members and their families gift certificates from military commissaries through the "Gift of Groceries" program: www.commissaries.com/certificheck/index.htm; or send a gift certificate to a deployed soldier via the Army & Air Force Exchange Service, which has 34 stores throughout the southwest Asian region in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, through the "Gifts From the Homefront" program: www.aafes.com
Care packages. Contribute to the purchase of items requested by troops such as sunscreen, disposable cameras, prepaid calling cards and toiletries through Operation USO Care Package: www.usocares.org/home.htm; or donate cash and supplies through the American Red Cross Armed Forces Emergency Services: www.redcross.org/services/afes
E-mail greetings. Send general messages and thank-you notes to deployed troops of any service from Hawai'i through Operation Dear Abby: anyservicemember.navy.mil/; or through Defend America: www.defendamerica.mil/nmam.html
The overseas newspaper, "Stars and Stripes," also recently debuted a daily section called "Messages of Support," which gives family and friends of deployed service members a chance to pass on their greetings free of charge. Personal messages can be e-mailed to the section 24 hours a day, must be 50 words or less, and will be printed on a first-come, first-run basis: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Past efforts have proved a boost to morale for U.S. troops.
Sgt. Jeffrey Bohn recently returned from a three-month deployment in the Philippines for Operation Enduring Freedom, and he clearly remembers the sense of isolation that he and his fellow Marines felt while they were there.
Even seemingly simple items they received in the mail care packages filled with cookies and candies or letters and children's drawings made a difference.
"It brings some of home to where you're at," said the North Carolina native stationed at Marine Corps Base Hawai'i at Kane'ohe Bay.
The packages were more than welcome, he said.
"It means a lot to know that people know you're there and they support what you're doing," Bohn said.
While expressions of gratitude are valued by service members, well-wishers are being encouraged not to flood the military mail system with letters, cards and gifts, said Troy Griffin, a spokesman with the 25th Infantry Division (Light) and U.S. Army Hawai'i.
"The Department of Defense doesn't want unsolicited mailings," Griffin said, which is a result of security concerns and transportation constraints.
But there are other ways to support the troops and their families, and it may be as easy as going online.