America Supports You: Advocates Discuss Issues at Summit
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2006 Supporting U.S. servicemembers who are defending America against terrorism is a cause that all citizens can identify with, advocates of the Defense Department's "America Supports You" program agreed at an organizational summit held in New York City Feb. 17.
Joyce Rumsfeld, wife of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (in light-colored turtleneck), meets with America Supports You volunteers Feb. 17 at the America's Society building on Park Avenue in New York City. Seated with Mrs. Rumsfeld are, from right: Jeannette Manchester, Give 2 the Troops; Salys Grigaliunas and Massiel Villanueva, both from My Soldier; Sue Langlie, executive director for education for the McLean (Va.) Bible Church; Jim Wareing, New England Caring for Our Military; Juan Salas, My Soldier; John Harlow II, Freedom Calls Foundation; and Dori DeCarlo, Support our Soldiers America Inc. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
America Supports You connects U.S. military members and their families to services provided by grassroots support groups that had been separate and disparate, said Ken Fitzgerald, a guest speaker at the meeting.
"Now they have a place where they can all be found under one umbrella, and that place is www.americasupportsyou.mil," said Fitzgerald, a marketer with the Susan Davis International marketing firm, who delivered a talk about media and communications to members of several grassroots ASY-affiliated groups. The groups also met with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his wife, Joyce.
America Supports You was created 13 months ago to support U.S. servicemembers and their families, Allison Barber, the senior Pentagon official who oversees the DoD-sponsored program, said. About 190 grassroots citizens' groups across the country now work with America Supports You, Barber said. The groups conduct letter-writing campaigns, mail care packages and provide other services for U.S. servicemembers and their families.
Barber said the purpose of holding ASY summit meetings like the one in New York is twofold.
"We want to learn everything we possibly can about what they're doing and how we can help make their organization stronger," Barber said. And, "we're helping them with things that they've asked for help with," she said, including media training, volunteer training and other special skills and needs.
ASY groups raise funds to support their programs, expand awareness of their organization and seek growth by recruiting new volunteers, Fitzgerald said.
"There are citizens that are anxious to participate and really don't know which way to turn," Fitzgerald said. People should realize that ASY supports those who are protecting our way of life, he said.
"We established our military to protect our freedoms," Fitzgerald continued. That concept cuts across party lines and "is bipartisan, basic and intrinsic," he said.
Jeannette Manchester, representing the Give 2 The Troops ASY-affiliated volunteer organization from Wilton, Conn., said it was "a real honor" to meet the defense secretary and his wife. Manchester's group, she said, sends care packages to U.S. servicemembers serving worldwide.
"We love to include letters and cards, because no matter what we send them, ... the letters and the cards are their favorites," Manchester said. "I just can't imagine not letting them know that we really support them, because you don't see that in the media a lot."
Manchester said schoolchildren write many of those cards and letters. "They're involved in that a lot; it'll be a class project," she said.
America's servicemen and women "are willing to sacrifice their lives to protect you. And, don't you ever forget that - period," said Dori DeCarlo, representing the Support our Soldiers America Inc. group from New York, which also sends letters of support to deployed servicemembers and injured troops.
DeCarlo said it was important for DoD representatives to visit with military support groups. ASY-affiliated groups, she said, are composed of people "who care enough to volunteer their time and be committed to try to make a difference."
New England Caring for Our Military representative Jim Wareing said he became convinced of the need to support America's military men and women when he visited New York City shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"When I saw the devastation that was here I was just absolutely amazed," said Wareing, whose group operates out of Methuen, Mass. "I went home and was a totally changed person. It's very important to support the soldiers. They deserve every bit of it - and more."
Juan Salas, a former Army reserve staff sergeant preparing to graduate in May from Fordham University with an ROTC commission as a second lieutenant, founded the New York-based ASY support group, My Soldier, after he returned stateside in May 2004 from a 14-month tour in Iraq.
"America Supports You is pointing us in the right direction with great summits like this," Salas said. "It's just very important for us to see that the Department of Defense is helping us out, because at the end of the day we need some help."
Sue Langlie, executive director for education for the McLean (Va.) Bible Church, spoke to the group about motivating volunteers and other issues.
Providing grassroots support to the U.S. military "is invaluable," Langlie said, because servicemembers and their families give up much to keep America safe.
"It's a big sacrifice," Langlie said, noting America Supports You is a perfect conduit to channel public support for servicemembers and their families.
The U.S. military "is about a whole bunch of kids doing incredibly brave things on all of our behalf and their families undergoing massive sacrifice to allow that to happen," John B. Harlow II, co-founder of the Freedom Calls Foundation, said in explanation of having troop and military family support programs.
Harlow's organization provides communications between deployed servicemembers and their families. He said he believes ASY and other military-support groups have just scratched the surface.
"There's this huge reservoir out there of people who want to help. I believe it," Harlow said.