America Supports You: 'Cell Phones for Soldiers' Gets Boost
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 10, 2006 The police athletic leagues of Fort Pierce and Port St. Lucie, Fla., have teamed with America Supports You member organization "Cell Phones for Soldiers" to help servicemembers and their families stay connected.
America Supports You members Brittany Bergquist (left) and her brother, Robbie, recently spent three days aboard the USS Cape St. George at sea. They were invited by Capt. James Yohe (center) as a thank you for providing a calling card to each person aboard the ship. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The PALs create and fund programs for youngsters considered "at risk," with the goal of instilling in them good citizenship and sportsmanship. America Supports You is a Defense Department program to spotlight efforts by everyday Americans and the corporate sector to support the nation's servicemembers.
PAL spokesman Garry Schwartz said the effort to help servicemembers goes right along with the PAL mission. "These are American boys and girls," he said. "We want them to have all the contact they can possibly have with their family."
Schwartz, a Port St. Lucie resident, contacted Massachusetts-based Cell Phones for Soldiers in January with an offer of support. The nonprofit organization collects cell phones for recycling. The monetary value of these recycled phones pays for prepaid calling cards that the founders, siblings Brittany and Robbie Bergquist, 15 and 14 years old, respectively, provide to servicemembers supporting operations overseas.
So far, Schwartz, a one-time member of the Fort Pierce Police Athletic League board of directors, has involved the Fort Pierce and Port St. Lucie PALs in the drive to support the Bergquists' organization. He resigned his PAL position to focus more time on supporting Cell Phones for Soldiers.
Brittany said her family has discovered there are "caring Americans across the country who truly care about the well-being of soldiers." But they also know it takes a special person to tackle an undertaking like the one in Florida.
"Mr. Schwartz has been an amazing, tireless worker for the troops," Brittany said. "Cell Phones for Soldiers offers an opportunity for people to help, but it takes someone like Mr. Schwartz to actually do something."
Keeping servicemembers connected is a bit of a personal quest for him, Schwartz said. A former Army Green Beret and Vietnam veteran, he blamed the lack of communication while he was deployed for the dissolution of his marriage.
"I was a newlywed when I went to Vietnam, and a divorcee shortly after I got back," he said. He and his bride communicated only during the one week of rest-and-recuperation leave he received during the year he was deployed.
"We didn't have means to communicate like the soldiers & today," Schwartz said. "Consequently, I want to help whenever possible."
Throughout April, collection pails were enthusiastically welcomed at 14 Harbor Federal Bank branches, five police substations, the Port St. Lucie's city hall and the Fort Pierce PAL Thrift Store. Some locations are in neighboring Martin County.
Schwartz, in conjunction with the two police athletic leagues, has already collected about 10 computer-paper-sized boxes of cell phones ready to ship to the recyclers. More are sure to follow, as other Florida police athletic leagues, as well as a state university, have expressed interest in getting involved.
While visiting his mother, who works at University of Miami's law school, Schwartz had the opportunity to explain Cell Phones for Soldiers to a university official. The idea was met with enthusiasm, and there are plans in the works to place collection pails around campus in the fall, he said.
That will mean even more phone cards for servicemembers overseas. "We have supplied approximately 80,000 prepaid calling cards for the troops," Robbie said, adding that every two phones is enough, on average, to buy one hour of talk time for another servicemember.
"I have so much respect for Brittany and Robbie, and the efforts they have made," Schwartz said. "I know there are so many (servicemembers) who are going to be grateful to them eternally for what they have done."