America Supports You: VFW, Wal-Mart Team Up on 'Message Books'
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 2006 Following an initiative that delivered almost 1,000 binders full of encouraging notes to deployed troops overseas for the holidays, the director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Foundation is declaring the fourth season in a VFW/Wal-Mart partnership a major success.
VFW Foundation staff members pose with books of encouragement prepared for shipment to deployed troops through the Message Books for Troops program, a joint VFW-Wal-Mart Foundation project. Shown, from left, are Nancy Gordon, Michelle McCarthy and Sandy Brook. Photo courtesy of the VFW Foundation
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
The "Message Books for Troops" effort teamed the two organizations to help lift the spirits of servicemembers away from home during the holidays through notes of thanks and encouragement, Mike Gormalley told the American Forces Press Service.
The effort began in mid-October, when the Wal-Mart Foundation asked its Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and Neighborhood Market stores throughout the United States to create the message books.
Families, friends, community members and veterans were invited to sign the books and write encouraging messages to the troops. Customers of all ages signed the books, some expressing their sentiments in crayons, Gormalley said. Each binder held "a couple of hundred messages," he said.
VFW Foundation shipped the books to units overseas, with most of them going to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Feedback from the field was speedy and enthusiastic. A first sergeant with the 103rd Armor Regiment at Camp Habbaniyah, Iraq, said he placed the message book he received in his unit's day room so all his soldiers could have access to it and read the messages.
"The response has been uniform in appreciation," he wrote the VFW Foundation. "We are here on a mission that we believe in, and it's great to know that the average citizen supports us. ... Thanks for the support."
This year was the fourth for the Message Book for Troops program, which has delivered about 4,000 books since the program began.
"The basic premise is to show troops our messages of support from throughout the United States, to let them know that we care about them and are not going to forget about them," Gormalley said.
Wal-Mart is building on this effort through Operation Dear Abby, establishing gift registry kiosks in its superstores so visitors can send messages of support to troops, Kathy Cox, community program development manager for the Wal-Mart Foundation, told the American Forces Press Service.
The company has been a solid supporter of the military, partnering with the VFW and other organizations to ensure men and women in uniform know the country is behind them.
Wal-Mart has offered grants to support programs for servicemembers and their families, clothing and luggage for wounded troops being transported for medical treatment, and 68 truckloads of bottled water for deployed troops within the past year, among other gifts.
In addition, Wal-Mart sent 5,100 pre-paid telephone calling cards worth more than $115,000 on Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's holiday visit to the Middle East so troops serving there could phone home during the holidays, said Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs.
Each phone card is good for about an hour of talking time, Barber said, noting that Rumsfeld took them to dispense to U.S. troops serving in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. "Wal-Mart has this wonderful history of finding ways to support the military," she said.
"Our hearts are with the troops. These are our sons and daughters and neighbors and associates," said Cox. "We have a deep commitment to supporting our troops and understand how critical it is for them to understand that we support them, that they are not forgotten and that their service and sacrifice are deeply appreciated," she said.
Both Wal-Mart and the VFW Foundation are participants in the "America Supports You" program. This DoD effort spotlights how Americans are supporting the military and brings added visibility to their efforts, encouraging others to join in by demonstrating their appreciation and support.