Thanks, America, for All the Support You Give Our Troops
By Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2008 Late last month my wife, Deborah, and I christened a Navy destroyer in Pascagoula, Miss. As we watched the champagne bottle break across the bow of this sleek new warship, some 25 miles away in the Alabama town of Irvington, more than 100 well-wishers gathered for a christening of their own.
They were breaking ground on a new house for former U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Greg Edwards and his family. Edwards, 25, lost both legs and shattered his left hand in an explosion while on patrol in Ramadi last October. Now, thanks to the Taunton, Mass.-based nonprofit organization Homes for Our Troops, Edwards, his wife, and their two young daughters will soon have a new place to call home.
"I'm excited and appreciative for all that's been done for me," said Edwards. Modest though he is, Edwards might well have been speaking for the tens of thousands of his fellow service members who have likewise benefited from the generosity of this nation.
The truth is, Americans deserve a lot more credit for supporting the troops than they often get. It goes well beyond the ribbons and the posters. All over this country - in all sorts of ways - people are rolling up their sleeves and doing great things for the men and women who serve in the armed forces.
During this National Tribute to Hospitalized Veterans Week, I thought it would be a good idea to point some of these things out. There's the National Military Family Association (NMFA), for example. They instituted something called Operation Purple Camps, day camps especially designed for the children of deployed parents. Last year there were 34 camps in 26 states, designed to provide positive outlets for the kids to express their feelings. More than 9,000 military children applied last year, and this year, NMFA plans to have even more camps to meet that need.
Or how about the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, begun in 2000 under the auspices of the Intrepid Museum Foundation. Since its inception, the fund has provided close to $60 million in support for the families of military personnel lost in service to the nation, and for severely wounded military personnel and veterans. Organizers are proud to tell you these efforts are funded entirely through public donations, and hundreds of thousands of people have chipped in.
Or consider the Angels of Mercy, a group led by Marian Chirichella and her husband, Jay Edwards, a retired naval officer. Chirichella and Edwards started Angels of Mercy back in 2003 to provide supplemental support to troops recuperating at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, DC. They visit patients, see to the needs of families, raise money, and support the Fisher Houses as well - doing whatever they can to make the stay at Walter Reed more comfortable.
This good work has earned Angels of Mercy national awards and recognition, including a 2004 "Newman's Own" award as the best program in the nation for "Supporting Active Duty Military and Their Families."
But that's not why they do it.
"It's a human thing," Jay Edwards told a reporter. "It's gratifying to know you're helping, to see the results of what you do."
Many other Americans do that "human thing," too, reaching out on an individual basis. Shauna Fleming of Orange, Calif., founded "A Million Thanks." She worked with her school and community to ensure that all 2.6 million members of the military received a thank you letter from citizens across the country. Lizzy Lulu, a young girl from Lancaster, Calif., together with her mother, launched a campaign to collect more than 100,000 "AA" batteries to send to overseas troops.
And in Nevada, the Girl Scouts of Frontier Council donated 11,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies. Indeed, over the holidays, our troops received everything from Christmas trees to holiday care packages to a special compilation CD featuring music from Five For Fighting, Billy Joel, Josh Groban, Brooks & Dunn, and Gary Sinise & The LT Dan Band.
For our part, Deborah and I were delighted to host this year's USO Holiday Tour, which brought A-list celebrities Robin Williams, Kid Rock, Lance Armstrong, Lewis Black, Ronan Tynan and Miss USA to perform shows in Iraq, Afghanistan and five other countries.
And these are but a few examples. The boxes, bags, cookies and cards just keep coming. I used to get asked all the time by deployed men and women if Americans still support them. It was typically the first thing on their minds. Nowadays, it doesn't come up as much.
More and more of them seem to know you care. They know you don't have to send gift packages and greeting cards, or donate to the USO, visit hospitals or look in on their families. But they know you do all these things and more. And they know most of the time you never tell a soul.
As one soldier wrote in a letter to the people of Midland, Texas, after he received one of more than 1,400 holiday care packages that city sent overseas, "Sometimes it seems as though a lot of people don't care about what we do for our country. These past few months have shown me that people are supportive and understand the hardships soldiers go through."
Like the Angels of Mercy, you're not in it for the credit. You're in it for the troops. The Rev. Floyd Nelson, who pastors a church not far from where Sgt. Edward's house is being built in Alabama, put it this way: "We should look out for those who look out for us."
On behalf of all those soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen - as well as their families - I just want to say thanks. We feel exactly the same way.
(Mullen is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff)