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America Supports You Members Share Stage With Lt. Dan Band

By Paul X. Rutz and Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 5, 2006 – Volunteers with groups dedicated to supporting America's fighting men and women gathered for a celebrity-led concert in the Pentagon's outdoor center courtyard today.

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Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld meets Sara Singer, an "Operation Iraqi Children" volunteer, during a concert at the Pentagon, May 5. OIC is a nonprofit organization co-founded by actor Gary Sinise that sends school supplies to children in Iraq. Photo by William D. Moss

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The event, which was sponsored by "America Supports You," featured actor Gary Sinise and his "Lt. Dan Band," whose performance was broadcast around the world to deployed servicemembers by the Pentagon Channel. The grassroots volunteers manned booths alongside Defense Department employees and military personnel attending the concert.

ASY is a Defense Department program that highlights grassroots and corporate support for the nation's troops and their families.

Among the display booths was "Operation Iraqi Children," an effort to collect school supplies for Iraqi children and co-founded by Sinise and "Seabiscuit" author Laura Hillenbrand. Donated items to the nonprofit organization go directly to a Kansas City, Mo., warehouse, where they are packaged and then shipped to Iraq. Once there, the supplies are distributed by American troops.

Sara Singer, a volunteer with the group, said it is important to build democratic values in Iraq from the ground up. "Building democracy in Iraq starts at the bottom by supporting the children," she said. "The effort is also a huge morale builder for our troops."

Brenda Kecskes, of Disabled American Veterans, said her group offers a nationwide network of services free of charge to all veterans and their family members. The group has been active since 1920 as nonprofit advocates for veterans' rights.

DAV's Brian Austin said one of his group's main jobs is to assist members who are being medically discharged with their physical evaluation boards to make sure they're treated fairly. "We basically act as their attorney," he said.

A member of the United Service Organizations, Milinda Jefferson, said she started volunteering with the nonprofit group shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. As an Air Force "brat," she said she relishes the chance to support America's troops. "I try to fit it in at least once month, but this will be a huge month for us because Memorial Day counts for a lot," she said.

Jefferson works at the USO Metropolitan Office, which is responsible for events around the Washington, D.C., metro area, everything "from care package programs to assisting at the airport," she said. "We hug them right before they leave for Iraq."

Deanna Okun, the founder of "ThanksUSA," a McLean, Va.-based nonprofit organization that provides college scholarships to military children and spouses, said her family wanted to do something to give back to the troops and their families.

"It's important to support the troops because they do so much for us. The sacrifices the troops and their families make are incredible," Okun said. "You could do something for them every day, and it still wouldn't be enough. ThanksUSA is my family's way of saying, 'Thank you.'"

Other America Supports You members attending the Pentagon event were:

  • Air Force Aid Society;
  • Cell Phones for Soldiers;
  • Family & Friends for Freedom Fund, Inc.;
  • Freedom Alliance;
  • Give2TheTroops, Inc.;
  • Homes for Our Troops;
  • Military Family Support Center;
  • National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve;
  • National Military Family Association;
  • New England Caring for Our Military;
  • Operation First Response Inc.;
  • Operation Noble Foster;
  • Our Military Kids;
  • Patriotic Pillow Project;
  • SemperComm;
  • Serving Those Who Serve;
  • Sew Much Comfort;
  • Stars for Stripes;
  • Support Our Soldiers;
  • United We Serve; and
  • USMC MotoMail.
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Related Sites:
Operation Iraqi Children
Disabled American Veterans
United Service Organizations

Click photo for screen-resolution image"America Supports You" grassroots members pose with Gary Sinise after the "ASY Salute to Our Military Men and Women Concert" at the Pentagon, May 5. Photo by William D. Moss  
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Click photo for screen-resolution image"America Supports You" member groups man tables at the second annual ASY Salute to the Troops, at the Pentagon's center courtyard May 5. Gary Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band entertained Pentagon servicemembers and civilians as the grassroots groups answered questions about their programs. Photo by Paul X. Rutz  
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