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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 17, 2004

Adopt-A-Platoon offers chance to keep in touch

 •  Soldiers take off for Iraq with more than just guns

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawai'i residents have been searching for ways to reach out to military men and women deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan, and local groups are responding with ways to help.

Ways to help

• A discount program has been started by Wahiawa businesses to support deployed troops and their families. Merchants who want to participate in giving discounts to military families should contact Dan Nakasone at 622-4032 or adventure@hawaii.rr.com.

• The Hawaiian Humane Society offers a foster care program for pets of deployed military personnel, called Pets of Patriots. Military members in need of care for pets and those who would like to care for a pet during the deployment may call Kelli Nitahara, outreach programs coordinator, at 946-2187, Ext. 217.

• Organizations wishing to adopt a platoon may contact George Vickers at vickersg001@hawaii.rr.com or 625-0177. He prefers to be contacted by e-mail.

• The chamber's Web site is at www.cochawaii.org. From the heading, "What We Do," drop down to Military Affairs and over to About the Military in Hawaii to get to the link. On the Department of Defense site, click "Support Our Troops."

George Vickers, president of the Hawai'i Chapter of the Association of the United States Army, is signing up businesses, schools and social groups to Adopt-A-Platoon, a program that will replace and improve upon the old "Any Service Member" mailing programs of past American conflicts.

Because of terrorism concerns and the dangers associated with transporting mail throughout Iraq and parts of Afghanistan, the Department of Defense has discontinued mailing programs that allowed citizens to address letters and care packages to unnamed military members, and send them directly.

Under the Adopt-A-Platoon program, civilian groups would keep in touch with military leaders, he said, so that the groups would know what the soldiers in each platoon want or need most — from local grinds to supplies for a village school — and how to best get it to them.

Platoon leaders could also alert the groups if a particular soldier isn't getting mail, so that a few extra letters or care packages could be sent.

Vickers said that although the program is in its infancy, response has been good. Classroom teachers from as far away as Texas have contacted him, he said. But he needs more volunteers.

"I'd like to get some of the bigger businesses — banks, telephone companies — to adopt larger organizations," he said. "A company of four platoons; a battalion of four companies.

"A business the size of Verizon could adopt a battalion."

Linda Wheeler of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii said that a link from the chamber's Web site to a Department of Defense site can provide residents with more ways to help deployed military members and their families.

The site contains everything from message boards where encouragement to soldiers can be posted, to sites for organizations that have been supporting the military for generations, including the American Red Cross and the United Service Organizations, or USO.

Maj. Chuck Anthony of the National Guard said he hopes people keep in mind that helping a deployed soldier's family can be the best way of helping to ease the soldier's mind.

"Things like getting the car towed or the plumber or the repairman to come in — if businesses could help expedite taking care of the soldiers' families, that would definitely be a big help," he said.

"Baby-sitting or picking up the kids after work — these things will help."

Many families will be shy about asking, he said, so simply volunteering instead of waiting for a call for help can make a big difference.

Reach Karen Blakeman at kblakeman@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2430.