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Troops, Families Honored With Picnic at Pentagon

By Paul X. Rutz and Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 28, 2006 – Hundreds of servicemembers recently back from overseas deployments were honored with a picnic in the Pentagon's parking lot today.

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Navy Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shares a moment with Medal of Honor recipients at the America Supports You Memorial Day Picnic in the Pentagon's parking lot May 28. Recently deployed troops and their families gathered with troop-support organizations for the event, part of a weekend of activities honoring the nation's servicemembers. Photo by Paul X. Rutz

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"Welcome back to all our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen here today and their families," U.S. Navy Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the attendees. "Thank you for being here, have a great time."

"America Supports You," a Defense Department program that highlights how Americans across the country are supporting U.S. troops, sponsored the picnic.

Giambastiani stressed the importance of such an effort. He said that when he was a young lieutenant in 1975 American troops were not treated with the respect they deserved and emphasized the significance of not letting this happen again. "At that time, uniformed members did not wear their uniforms here in the Washington area four days out of five days of the working week," he said. "That was the mood of the country as Vietnam wound down. I remember those days only too well."

Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, honored two America Supports You corporate sponsors during the picnic. Keith Sirios, president and chief executive officer of Checkers/Rally's fast food restaurant, and Scott Celley, vice president for external affairs for TriWest Healthcare Alliance, each received an American flag that had flown over the area of the Pentagon that was hit by an airliner on Sept. 11, 2001.

Checkers/Rally's has set up drop boxes at 720 of its locations for care packages destined for deployed troops, Barber said. TriWest Healthcare Alliance, a military healthcare provider, provided the food for today's feast.

"It's a privilege for me to highlight some work of some of the groups that have been supporting you and your families," Barber told troops attending the picnic. "We know you're here today representing hundreds of thousands of military members deployed around the world, and we thank you for your service and for their service, as well."

Four Medal of Honor recipients attended the event and mingled with current active duty and reserve troops while "Max Impact," the newest addition to the U.S. Air Force Band, played contemporary popular songs. Lowe's home improvement corporation provided its NASCAR car, number 48, for photo opportunities.

Army Staff Sgt. Wallace Hendrix, a 24-year active-duty and reserve veteran, said support like this picnic means a lot, particularly on Memorial Day weekend. "We give a lot, especially the soldiers who have lost their lives, and it wouldn't be right not to get out there and support them and the soldiers that are overseas right now," he said.

Hendrix said he was here to help people heal and remember in a healthy way the troops who won't be coming back to celebrate. "It should bring a closeness," he said. "The parents and loved ones of the soldiers that were lost, I hope that eases the pain a little, to show them that we do care, that we're representing the ones that didn't come back."

Army National Guard Sgt. Jim Greenhill was at the event to escort 14 Army and Air National Guard members who were either wounded or have lost loved ones in the war on terror.

Greenhill said two National Guard troops from each American state and territory will march in a parade tomorrow on the National Mall here to "demonstrate that America's troops come from all walks of life." He said servicemembers who aren't deployed should take every opportunity to support those in harm's way. "It's just a way of saying 'Thank you.'"

In addition, 11 volunteer organizations were on hand to tell troops and their families what they're doing to support them.

Michele Cooney, a volunteer with "Operation Noble Foster," a cat foster program supported by the Cat Fanciers' Association, said people might forget that troops are giving up more than time with their human families when they deploy. "People become very attached to their pets," Cooney said. "Imagine having to give up your cat because you happen to get called up. Our organization helps them keep their cats. It's a great service to our troops."

"Operation Stephen's Touch" founder Marilyn Peterson said she was at the event to get the word out about her group, which offers a caring, compassionate listening ear for military families. "It's important to have someone to listen to you in confidence," Peterson said. "Just to get things off their chest is very helpful to people. Whether they have grief or are concerned about a loved one being deployed, it's important to talk to someone."

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Related Sites:
Operation Noble Foster
Operation Stephen's Touch
America Supports You

Related Articles:
Photo Essay, Pentagon Picnic

Click photo for screen-resolution imageAmerica Supports You member Marilyn Peterson, founder of Operation Stephen's Touch, prepares to talk with troops and their families about the services her group provides. Several America Supports You member groups gathered to help honor recently deployed troops and their families at a Memorial Day picnic at the Pentagon May 28. Photo by Stephen Donald Smith  
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