Operation Troop Support

By Holly Gumpher Fawcett

Shortly after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, my husband Paul, an officer in the United States Coast Guard Reserve, was called to serve in Operation Noble Eagle, the homeland defense operation. The night before his departure, a family friend who teaches fifth grade stopped by with an envelope of cards from her class, along with a box filled with snacks and other goodies. Her class wanted to do something, she said, and this is what they thought would be appropriate.

The kids were right. The cards and snacks were a huge morale boost, not only for my husband, but his entire unit. The cards eventually became part of a bulletin board in the main hallway of their building.

Your kids don’t have to know a deploying soldier or sailor to support American troops around the world. Thanks to the Internet, every family can send encouragement to our troops with just a couple of clicks.

Send Online Thanks: If you’re looking for a truly easy way to say thanks to our military personnel, log on and sign the thank you note provided by the Department of Defense atwww.defendamerica.mil/nmam.html.  All it takes is a few seconds to type in your name and click on send.

Send Online Greetings: With the threat of biological weapons being delivered through the mail system, email has replaced traditional letter writing campaigns. Plus, snail mail letters have to be transported, divided among units and distributed to individuals, while email messages are instantly available to any military personnel with access to the Internet. Even Operation Dear Abby, a letter drive columnist Abigail Van Buren ran each holiday season, has moved online atwww.operationdearabby.net.

While the recipient won’t be able to see your child’s careful handwriting or hang her hand drawn picture on the wall, the message will still get through. If your child isn’t comfortable using the keyboard yet, have her tell you what she wants to say and type it into the email for her. Kids have an endearing way of expressing themselves no matter the medium they use to do it. And don’t forget to add your own message as well.

Send E-books: Believe it or not, sometimes soldiers and sailors have a hard time filling their off-duty hours. Depending on where they are stationed, they may have very limited options and resources when it comes to recreational activities. Reading books is one diversion that is practical in most situations. However, new books can be hard to come by when the closest bookstore is across the ocean.

E-books are essentially books that are formatted to be read on a computer or hand-held device, and through the Internet they can be downloaded in all corners of the world. Gregory and Denise Michel, owners of Wolf Dragon Design, received an email from a soldier inquiring about e-books he could read to his children in a videotaped message from his post. That request, along with the couple’s fond childhood memories of a bookmobile that brought reading material to their neighborhood, prompted them to create the Military Download Library. Volunteers purchase e-books from the list of publishers on the Michel’s Web site,www.wolfdragondesign.com, and donate it to the virtual library, much like purchasing a print book and donating it to your community library. There are e-books available to suit most every taste, from romance to science fiction to biography. You might even choose a children’s title so more parents in uniform can enjoy reading an e-book to their kids back home.

Make Online Donations: Donating to charitable organizations dedicated specifically to supporting the men and women of our armed forces has never been easier. The United Service Organizations (USO) is best know for entertaining troops overseas with celebrity filled stage shows, but they do more than that. They also run newcomer orientation programs at overseas bases, and welcome centers at major airports around the world. As a non-profit organization the USO relies on the donations of citizens and the sponsorship of corporations to continue to provide their services. Their Web site,www.USO.org,  is designed to accept cash donations as well as donations of automobiles.

While you’re browsing the USO homepage, locate the airport center nearest you and ask if they need volunteers or donations of books, videos, soft drinks or snacks. These centers provide a home away from home for traveling military members, especially those younger members who may not have traveled much before. USO volunteers help pass the time between flights with refreshments, books, videos and a sympathetic ear.

The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping the families of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Bonnie Carroll, founder and president of TAPS, discovered that what helped her through her grief after her husband was killed during a military flight accident was sharing her experience with the wives of the other men killed that day. Their support of each other through the most difficult time of their lives laid the groundwork for TAPS. The organization’s free services include grief counseling referral, a peer support network, and assistance navigating the maze of resources available to survivors. Recognizing the special needs of grieving children, TAPS sponsors an annual Youth Gathering especially for them. Donations can be made at the TAPS Web site, www.TAPS.org.

Connect With Government: The military’s duty is to defend our rights and freedoms; our responsibility is to exercise them. The internet makes it easier than ever to help your children learn how government works, and to participate in it yourself. A wide variety of government services and information is online atwww.firstgov.gov.  Here you can find out who your Congressional delegates are and write them a letter expressing your opinion on an issue, or click on the link to the government pages designed especially for children. You can learn about the legislative process, the White House, past presidents and first ladies, the U. S. Census, and much more.

The fifth graders who sent well wishes at the outset of Paul’s duty also remembered us at Christmas with more cards. They asked their teacher for updates on what he was doing, and when he would return. She thought it helped them to better understand the events that were happening and brought a new perspective to the idea of military service. When his tour was completed, Paul visited their class to thank them for being so thoughtful. It’s hard to say who got more out of the experience.

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