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America Supports You: Troop Supporters Hold Father's Day Event

By Paul X. Rutz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 19, 2006 – Corporate and grassroots supporters came together here yesterday both to honor military and civil service dads and to teach them something new about raising young children.

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Jennifer Zahnizer, a promotions coordinator with Babies R Us, displays a sign showing the sponsors of "Operation Fatherhood," an outdoor event honoring servicemembers and their families and offering tips on parenting infants at Granville Gude Park, Md., June 18. Photo by Paul X. Rutz
  

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The event, dubbed "Operation Fatherhood," was a partnership between America Supports You, national baby products retail chain Babies R Us, and nonprofit organization Yellow Ribbon Fund, with help from several other supporters. Five booths were set up at Granville Gude Park, offering a daddy obstacle course, areas to test baby products, a free lunch, and several games for kids and moms.

"We're here today to not only support our military and civil service dads, but also to get the message out that Babies R Us is a community support system," said Nancy Allen, Babies R Us district manager for the Maryland, Virginia and District of Columbia area. "We're here as much to inform and teach new parents as sell them things."

Allen said her district is working on a local level with America Supports You, a Defense Department program highlighting grassroots and corporate support for America's troops and their families. The relationship started after three of the chain's Maryland stores offered their customers the chance to write Christmas letters to deployed troops in November 2005. Word came back from the Pentagon that the troops appreciated that gesture, and planning soon began for this event.

Jennifer Zahniser, a promotions coordinator with Babies R Us, said 24 employees from the company, mostly sales associates from area stores, were on hand to man the booths, along with 12 people from Three Brothers Catering, which provided the food.

Other sponsors present included Toyota and America Supports You, while Maryland Kids in Safety Seats and the Safe Kids Coalition provided car-seat safety information.

Zahniser said more than 500 families had registered to attend the event -- from military and other government installations throughout Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia -- but temperatures in the high 90's kept some from attending.

Army Col. Hiram Bell, commandant of the Defense Information School, showed his appreciation as he walked from booth to booth and shook hands with the people working at the event. "We want to thank everybody that is involved in providing support to our military members, our civil service folk and their families," he said.

The America Supports You effort, which began in November 2004, has grown from a way of showing America's support for the troops into an entity that makes events like this happen, Bell said.

The colonel also spoke about family support efforts happening between troops on Fort Meade, Md., where he is based, and people in the surrounding communities. "Those kinds of community collective efforts not only show gestures of support, they provide real, meaningful, tangible support," he said.

Marie Wood, executive director of Yellow Ribbon Fund, said supporting the troops is a "truly rewarding, wonderful experience."

Her group offers community support to injured troops recovering in Washington, D.C., area hospitals. Volunteers arrange opportunities for troops to enjoy their temporary home in the nation's capital, she said. They take troops to sporting events, arrange family visits and help train them in new jobs, if necessary.

Wood said just two weeks ago, she got a call about a wounded servicemember whose wife had just given birth to twins. She thanked Babies R Us for offering her group some of their car seats and other products on display at the event and promised their donation would go far.

"It is an ongoing effort, and we are just totally blessed to be able to help our servicemembers," she said.

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Related Sites:
Yellow Ribbon Fund

Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Col. Hiram Bell, commandant of the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, Md., shares a laugh with his wife and associates from Babies R Us at "Operation Fatherhood," held at Granville Gude Park, Md., June 18. Photo by Paul X. Rutz  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageFathers and fathers-to-be raced each other through the Daddy Drills obstacle coarse at Granville Gude Park, Md., June 18, as part of "Operation Fatherhood," sponsored by America Supports You, Yellow Ribbon Fund, Babies R Us, and others. Photo by Paul X. Rutz  
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