'America Supports You' Celebrates One-Year Anniversary
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 17, 2005 One year ago this week, the Defense Department launched "America Supports You," a program to showcase the nation's support for its men and women in uniform and the many ways citizens are expressing that support.
Today, what began as a six-month campaign has snowballed into a full-fledged effort that's showing no signs of waning, said Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, who came up with the program concept and oversees its operations.
The words "America Supports You" are as likely to be uttered by President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as by corporate giants, sports figures, superstar entertainers, grassroots organizers and kindergarteners, Barber noted.
But even more importantly, she said, the word has reached its most important audience: U.S. servicemembers and their families. "Thankfully, they've heard about the campaign and the support they have from the American people, and their families have too," Barber said.
This boosts morale and gives comfort to families whose loved ones are serving in harm's way, she said. It also gives a clear answer to questions Barber said she remembers hearing just a year ago that demonstrated the need for the program.
"We've heard troops in the field asking if Americans are still supporting them," she said at last year's kickoff on Nov. 19. "And we were determined to be able to answer that question in a meaningful way."
No longer are troops left wondering about that support, Barber said on the program's first anniversary. The America people are answering their question day in and day out, in ways large and small, she said.
From the time President Bush heralded the program last December during a visit to Camp Pendleton, Calif., the program has continued to grow. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld promotes it regularly during media interviews and public appearances and wears his official America supports You pin nearly everywhere he goes.
Celebrities from nearly every walk of life have come together and lent their names and endorsement to the program. Networks now produce and air their own America Supports You public service announcements. And the program has been featured prominently at major sporting events, including Monday Night Football, the Country Music Awards and other national spotlights.
In addition, 18 corporate partners and 175 grassroots organizations have joined the America Supports You team through the program's Web site to show their support, and their numbers continue to grow, Barber said.
The America Supports You Web site has become a key focus of the program, providing a forum for groups and individuals to officially join the ASY team, share information about their efforts, seek volunteers and donations, and explore new ways to show support. It also provides a direct channel for people to personally thank the troops for their contributions.
More than 1.3 million people have visited the site during the past year, viewing almost 5 million pages, according to officials who maintain the site. Daily visits to the site now average from 3,000 to 3,500, spiking when the America Supports You program is highlighted in a speech or during a concert, sporting event or other activity.
In addition, visitors have sent almost 151,000 messages to the troops through the site, expressing thanks and concern, offering pats on the back and sending prayers.
As membership in the program grows, so does the level of support participants provide. "It's energized people and encouraged organizations to start doing more for our military members and their families," Barber said.
She said she's amazed by the outpouring from all corners and optimistic that it will continue, particularly now that groups of all types have a common forum to help spur their efforts.
"The Defense Department is truly grateful to the American people who have taken the initiative to demonstrate their support for the troops," Barber said. Their contributions are evident throughout America - in boardrooms, schools, churches, clubs, concert halls and city streets, she noted.
Barber expressed particular appreciation to members of grassroots organizations, who in some cases have put their full-time jobs aside to run programs out of their basements that meet special needs of troops and the families. "They've made an amazing contribution that's recognized and appreciated," she said.
Despite the success of the America Supports You program, Barber said it still has a way to go to reach its ultimate goal.
"Until all 2.6 million members of the military understand that the American people support them, this campaign is not done," she said.