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America Supports You: Operation Dear Abby Uses E-mail

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 2, 2004 – In 1967 a servicemember wrote advice columnist "Dear Abby" requesting "just a letter from home" for deployed troops serving during the Vietnam War.

The famous columnist, known by her pseudonym Abigail Van Buren, responded, and the "Operation Dear Abby" mail program was born. Through the ensuing years, hundreds of thousands of U.S. servicemembers received letters of support from Dear Abby readers during the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year holiday seasons.

Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, the Defense Department shut down Operation Dear Abby due to concerns of potential anthrax attacks through regular postal mail.

In November 2001, Dear Abby and the U.S. Navy teamed up to resurrect the letter-writing operation using e-mail as the conduit, noted Bill Hendrix, director of the Navy's Lifelines quality-of-life program.

Hendrix said the Internet-enabled Operation Dear Abby system experienced 22 million hits during its first month of operation. "We like to say that was just an outpouring of the (U.S.) population to thank the troops for what they were doing," Hendrix remarked.

"It was just an overwhelming surge" of support, he said.

Today, Jeanne Phillips, the daughter of Dear Abby founder Pauline Phillips, writes the advice column, which reaches more than 100 million readers.

And with U.S. troops deployed worldwide in support of the global war against terrorism, Operation Dear Abby's messages of support are as important as ever, Hendrix said. The Navy-run operation supports all the services.

According to the operation's Web site, the general public can send messages to servicemembers. Servicemembers, in turn, with Internet access can read those messages. Troops without Internet access can still read them by having others, such as their commanders, download and distribute messages.

Hendrix said the e-mail servers "start to buzz" each time Operation Dear Abby is discussed in the Dear Abby column. "It goes right up to the 3- to 4-million- hit range every time she does it," he said.

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