America Supports You: Virginia Group Supports Wounded Troops, Families
By Paul X. Rutz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 23, 2006 Wounded servicemembers have an extra helping hand thanks to Operation First Response, a group specializing in providing them supplies and funds during their recuperation.
Peggy Baker, founder and president of Operation First Response, stands by her organization's booth to answer questions at the Washington Capitals' "Salute to the Military Night" Jan. 19. The organization provides aid to wounded servicemembers and their families. Photo by Paul X. Rutz
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Peggy Baker of Culpepper, Va., founder and president of the all-volunteer nonprofit, answered questions from interested troops Jan. 19 at the Washington Capitals' "Salute to the Military Night" at the MCI Center here. While thousands of servicemembers and their families enjoyed free tickets to the hockey game against the St. Louis Blues, Baker took the opportunity to offer assistance.
"We're kind of an extension. Where somebody will fall through the loops, we try to pick it up," she said.
As a member of America Supports You, a Department of Defense-sponsored effort to support the troops, the organization has found ways to provide a variety of services to show troops "they are heard, cared about, and honored," Baker said.
One way the group supports America's servicemembers is by collecting frequent flyer miles to allow family members of wounded troops to reunite with them, she said. It also provides a car service that picks up families at Washington-area airports and brings them to Walter Reed Army Medical Center here or the National Naval Medical Center, at nearby Bethesda, Md., as well as financial support for those families during their stay here.
Since its inception in August 2004, the group has provided similar types of aid to troops in other places. Baker said Operation First Response has developed connections to military installations across the country and beyond, including Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, in Germany; Fort Bliss, Texas; Camp Lejeune, N.C.; Naval Medical Center San Diego; Camp Pendleton, Calif.
"We help anywhere," Baker said.
The group's volunteers have sent thousands of backpacks full of supplies to wounded troops at combat support hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan, sending them "where they are most needed," she said. Volunteers pack the bags themselves after receiving donations, including hygiene items, T-shirts, socks, underwear and even handmade quilts for cots.
When contacted by family members of wounded servicemembers, the group often goes into action before wounded troops return to the states, facilitating phone calls and taking care of other needs, Baker said.
"We have a nurse at Landstuhl in Germany who takes care of our guys and gives them our information," she said. Landstuhl is often a stopping off point for servicemembers medically evacuated to the United States.
Baker, whose son is an Army specialist, said she founded OFR after she noticed a need while helping a friend. "My girlfriend's boy lost his leg, and I went into Walter Reed to meet with her to help her because she was from Iowa, and just saw a lot of things that we could actually do as citizens," she said.
Filling the gaps for servicemembers and families in need is what her group does best, Baker said.
"If they let us know what their needs are, we try to meet them," she said. "Whatever they call us with, we try to pick it up."