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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Net boosts generosity to troops

By Oren Dorell
USA Today

Americans are increasingly turning to high-tech methods to send gifts and supplies to U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Veterans say today's care packages are more numerous and creative and get to service members much faster than those of the past.

In previous wars, letters from home were sometimes accompanied by cigarettes or magazines. Today, several Web sites designed specifically for supporting the troops overseas allow anyone with a credit card to order cell phone minutes, snacks, books even armor and sniper accessories.

Air Force Senior Airman Hollis Vernetti went through the Web site Any Soldier (www.anysoldier.com) to request hair conditioner and other items for herself and 21 other women in her group while they were stationed in Afghanistan last year.

"Sometimes, the PX, they do the best they can, but the high-priority items like laundry soap and coffee go fast," says Vernetti, who is now stationed at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq. She says she was deeply moved by the messages people included with their gifts. "The letters and the cards, they made me cry."

Allison Barber, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, says: "In today's environment, people like to customize everything they do. Back in the good old days you'd just write a letter to any service member. Now you have 225 choices."

That's how many nonprofit support organizations the Defense Department lists on the Web site of America Supports You (www.americasupportsyou.mil), a program created to spread the word about such efforts.

"There's definitely more support now than there ever was," says Judith Young, national president of American Gold Star Mothers, an organization of women who have had children die in military action. Young's son, Jeffrey, was a Marine who died in an attack on his barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983.

Among Web sites offering support:

  • Soldiers' Angels (www.soldiersangels.org). This site, started by the mother of an Iraq war veteran, takes donations for Kevlar blankets that can protect Humvee crews from roadside bombs and sniper fire. It also provides troops with "cool scarves" fabric filled with polymer crystals that can provide up to 15 hours of relief from the heat after a 15-minute soaking in cold water.

  • Operation Uplink (www.operationuplink.org). This Veterans of Foreign Wars program solicits online donations to provide service members with prepaid phone cards to call home.

  • www.AmericanSnipers.org. A group of police and military sharpshooters created the Adopt a Sniper program. Donors help provide supplies such as spotting scopes, holsters and ammunition wallets to snipers deployed in combat zones around the world.

  • Freedom Calls Foundation (www.freedomcalls.org). This nonprofit organization uses donations to provide free videoconferences between soldiers and their families. Marine Sgt. Mitch Selco, stationed in Fallujah, Iraq, got to see his daughter by teleconference after she was born in Denver. Another Marine in Iraq, Cpl. Terrence Lambert, saw his daughter's birth in Jacksonville, Ala., via satellite on Father's Day.

  • Operation Gratitude (www.opgratitude.com). The program celebrated its 150,000th care-package delivery to service members on Father's Day weekend.

    Marty Horn, a Vietnam-era military policeman, founded Any Soldier in 2003 when his son, Brian, went to Afghanistan with the Army. Horn has 3,000 contacts in the military who post messages on his site about what their buddies need. Goods are distributed to 92,000 troops in 11 countries and at sea.

    "These have to be the best-supported troops in history," Horn says.

    Tom Clarkson, a Vietnam War veteran working in public relations for the Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq, says that what the troops receive now is "completely different" from the packages service members received in Vietnam. Those care packages typically came from family members and contained items such as Kool-Aid, socks and popcorn.

    "I can't recall anyone getting boxes and boxes of stuff," Clarkson says.