America Supports You: Gratitude Motivates Troop-Support Groups
By Paul X. Rutz
American Forces Press Service
CHICAGO, March 28, 2006 Grassroots supporters of America's troops agree their efforts are acts of gratitude, not charity.
America Supports You member Christina Finn, founder of the Patriotic Pillow Project, speaks with Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michelle Schuerman, a public affairs officer at Naval Station Great Lakes, Ill. They met during the America Supports You regional meeting in Chicago, March 27. Photo by Paul X. Rutz
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"It's our way of saying thank you," Anna Sherony, co-chair of the nonprofit "Wounded Heroes Foundation," said. "The hardest part is to get (the troops) to call you because they don't want to ask for help."
Sherony was one of 20 people attending Chicago's "America Supports You" regional team member summit held here yesterday with Pentagon officials, military public affairs officers and leaders of several grassroots troop-support groups. The meeting was part of a series being held this spring in regions across the country.
The schedule included a taped video message from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who summed up the Defense Department's appreciation for the groups' hard work. "By supporting the America Supports You campaign, you've joined what has been called a volunteer home front for a volunteer military," Rumsfeld said.
The secretary said that thanks to these groups the troops know they are not forgotten. "Our courageous and talented men and women in uniform draw strength and courage from the support you all provide," he said.
Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, welcomed the group. "I am so humbled by the work that you do," Barber said. "We did not come up with the idea of supporting our troops -- you did. What we came up with was a way to tell your story and a way to make your organization have the mark of the approval of the Department of Defense."
Barber said America Supports You shows deployed servicemembers they have support back home. The program also offers national visibility to groups that aim to support the troops, helping them connect with each other and get their messages to civic leaders and corporate sponsors.
To that end, Barber said she would attend a meeting with Chicago's mayor, Richard Daley, immediately after the summit and bring him news of the work these groups are doing.
Barber invited the attendees to stand up and explain what their groups are doing to support the troops. She also asked them to explain methods they have found most effective in bolstering positive public involvement with the military.
This was the first time the America Supports You regional summits have incorporated military public affairs officers, Barber said. Representatives from the Navy, Army, Air Force and Marines all took their turn, sharing insights.
Lt. Col. Ryan Yantis, an Army public affairs officer, said he and the other military PAOs in the Chicago area meet every month, working to collaborate with one another. "We are a very large, joint organization that nobody has ever told, 'You will work or play well together.' We just do it. That's how we survive."
Christina Finn, founder of the "Patriotic Pillow Project," gives pillows to wounded troops and uses the opportunity to raise awareness about veterans' problems. "We're trying to unite America and also ... better educate the general population," Finn said. "They don't understand all the transitions that military families go through."
Patti Lokken, of "Operation Homefront," in La Crosse, Wis., said the first thing her group did was contact local media representatives and explain its mission. Soon, her group found itself doing weekly radio broadcasts and regular television appearances, which has helped them partner with several local businesses that donated supplies and services, which helped her group raise money to aid troops and their families.
"Everything happened without any cost," she said. "We have the only fundraising committee that has never met. The hardest thing we have is managing how do we do these events and have them not happen one on top of the other."
Susan Davis, chairman of Susan Davis International public relations firm, offered tips on how to work with the media. She said Lokken and her group had done the right thing. "They were extremely wise ... in getting the media to buy in from the beginning," Davis said. "It's really all about relationships, and we know that. That's how you're all so successful at what you're doing."