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America Supports You: Famous Marine, JROTC Unit Push VFW Effort

By Paul X. Rutz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 9, 2006 – Retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. R. Lee Ermey, famous for his role as a drill instructor in the movie "Full Metal Jacket," has joined forces with a Midwest Junior ROTC unit to help support troops and their families.

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Retired U.S. Marine Gunnery Sgt. R. Lee Ermey signs autographs for students from Wentworth Military Academy at the "Unmet Needs" benefit concert in Kansas City, Mo., Feb. 25, 2005. The concert, featuring Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band, kicked off Unmet Needs, a VFW program offering financial aid to military families in need. Photo by Phil Licata

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Together, they have challenged Junior ROTC groups to raise funds for "Unmet Needs," a Veterans of Foreign Wars program that gives financial aid to military families. Unmet Needs has raised over $900,000 to help 1,000 military families since its inception in June 2004.

"When a family is about to be evicted while its breadwinner is defending our country, well, that's reprehensible," Ermey, the program's spokesman, is quoted as saying on the VFW Web site. Ermey starred as a Marine drill instructor in "Full Metal Jacket" in 1987. He also hosts "Mail Call" on the History Channel.

The Junior ROTC unit at Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, Mo., began its relationship with Unmet Needs just over a year ago. The VFW Foundation held a kick-off event for the effort, which featured Ermey and the Lt. Dan Band, led by actor Gary Sinise, Feb. 25, 2005, in Kansas City, Mo.

"At the invitation of the VFW, with whom we had partnered on another initiative, we received an invitation to this event and sent quite a few of our cadets to it," said retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Hill, the school's vice president for enrollment management and marketing.

As it turned out, Hill said, a Wentworth Academy alumnus was already working closely with Ermey and the program.

"We approached him about seeing if R. Lee Ermey would serve as this year's judge for our military ball queen's court," he said. "The gunny agreed with one stipulation -- that we help him raise funds for the Unmet Needs campaign. Our alumnus went even further and proposed that (we) lead a national challenge engaging all ROTC units. We agreed."

Hill said his group has run into some difficulties in their efforts to issue the challenge, including problems with the Junior ROTC Web portal, as well as legal concerns, which kept senior ROTC units from officially supporting it. Still, with some 1,600 Junior ROTC units in the Army program alone, he said he sees no reason why his group won't be able to muster plenty of involvement.

"We're contacting JROTC units directly (and) making this a school-to-school challenge," he said. "We're also getting word to local VFW chapters, encouraging them to contact local JROTC units to undertake a joint effort."

Hill said he hopes to get 100 high schools to take the challenge by mid-May, and he hopes to double or triple that number each following year.

Michael Gormalley, the VFW Foundation's senior director, said working with Hill and his JROTC unit will help Unmet Needs in creative ways, going beyond simply raising dollars to help families with home and car repairs, basic finances, mortgage payments and other necessities.

"They're also saying, 'You might be able to get some certificates from an automotive dealership or other places that local military family support center people can use for the needy military families,'" he said.

Military members or their spouses may apply for financial aid through the Unmet Needs Web site, Gormalley said. The VFW reviews the applications and makes contact with applicants, as well as their military commands or family support representatives, to talk about their specific financial needs. When approved, the money goes directly to the company or utility to whom the family owes money. No money leaves the program without a specific destination.

Gormalley said he sees the fund best used as a financial management tool to help families get out of debt and then continue on their own. To that end, a close relationship with on-base financial experts is key. "The Family Support Center folks have been very good," he said.

The VFW, which has 9,000 posts located throughout the United States and many foreign countries, works with many programs to support America's troops, including America Supports You, a Defense Department initiative facilitating corporate and grassroots support for America's troops and their families. Unmet Needs is a nonprofit America Supports You member.

Independently, Gormalley said, VFW posts help individual families on an immeasurable scale through their own post and state funds. They also work year-round with Boy Scout groups, school programs, and other youth-oriented service societies. "We're trying to educate the public about the importance of supporting our military and their families in the future," he said.

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Related Sites:
Unmet Needs
R. Lee Ermey on the VFW Site
America Supports You

Click photo for screen-resolution imageR. Lee Ermey addresses VFW leaders and members of the media at a press conference outside the VFW building, Feb. 25, 2005. Ermey is a spokesman for Unmet Needs, a VFW program offering financial aid to military families in need. Photo by Phil Licata  
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