America Supports You: 'Angels in Iraq' Provide Comfort Items
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 16, 2005 When the founders of "Angels of Mercy" heard that wounded, injured and sick servicemembers being treated in combat support hospitals in Iraq needed health and comfort items, they created "Angels in Iraq." They sprang into action and launched a nationwide American Legion campaign to let legionnaires and auxiliary members know how they could help America's heroes.
Jay Edwards and his wife, Marian Chirichella, talk about their efforts to provide health and comfort items to patients in combat support hospitals in Iraq. Photo by Rudi Williams
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The "angels," Jay Edwards and his wife, Marian Chirichella, founded the "Angels of Mercy" program in October 2003 in response to an American Red Cross appeal for help in supporting combat casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here. Angels of Mercy has been supporting wounded troops at Walter Reed ever since.
The angels are sponsored by American Legion Auxiliary Unit 270 and American Legion Post 270 of McLean, Va. Edwards is the first vice commander of Post 270. Chirichella is president of Auxiliary Unit 270 and chair of the chapter's veterans affairs and rehabilitation committee.
When they heard of troops in need in combat support hospitals in Baghdad and Fallujah, Iraq, Edwards and Chirichella sent e-mail messages to these facilities asking for a "wish list" of health and comfort items the hospitals needed for their patients. Meanwhile, they contacted state Legion commanders in all 50 states to alert them to the wounded combatants' needs, and Angels in Iraq was born.
The couple is now working to garner assistance from Legion commanders in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, France, Mexico and the Philippines. They also hope to help patients at other combat hospitals in Iraq and those in Afghanistan and Kuwait.
"The response has been terrific from several states," Edwards said.
Edwards also said he wants to help spread the word about DoD's "America Supports You" program, which highlights how Americans support the troops. He said he was struck by an ASY e-mail quoting Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top commander of U.S. troops in the Middle East, that said soldiers are questioning whether or not they have the support of the American people.
In a June 25 appearance before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Abizaid said, "I can tell you that when my soldiers ... ask me the question whether or not they've got support from the American people, ... that worries me. And they're starting to do that."
Edwards noted that he and his wife have been volunteering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center since the fall of 2003. He estimated they've hugged and shaken hands with more than 2,000 wounded or injured troops and over twice that many family members and friends. "For two years now ... we've been telling ... wounded and injured men and women at Walter Reed that the country does support them," he said. "And we have a lot of examples of what people have done through our program to help them out."
In response to the couple's initial e-mail solicitation, 2nd Lt. Michael J. Pruden of the 86th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad said items casualties are short of include everything from bath towels to flip-flops, and shorts and T-shirts to magazines and back scratchers for patients wearing casts and unable to reach an itch.
After Edwards and Chirichella sent boxes of the items he requested, Pruden wrote back: "We received your packages yesterday. Thanks again for supporting our troops. The posters (American Supports You) and the games are definitely a plus. Shorts and towels are always in demand and we appreciate everything you all have done. Please spread our thanks to all the members of the American Legion."
"We hope that every serviceman and woman knows that America Supports You isn't just a catchy slogan -- it's the feeling of our entire country!" Edwards and Chirichella responded. "While we continue to debate the war, we don't debate about our military. ... You're held in the highest esteem, ... and we're proud of you!"
Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Elizabeth Christiansen, of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Expeditionary Medical Group in Fallujah, told the couple her facility is "in constant need of hygiene and clothing items."
"Because of the urgency of our patients' condition, they usually arrive here without these necessities," she wrote. "When our rotation arrived here at the beginning of May, the supplies seemed adequate. However, they have rapidly dwindled, are almost gone, and we're not sure where to find replenishments."
Christiansen sent a "wish list" of health and comfort items for patients, including baby wipes, deodorant, female sanitary items, soap and body wash, sweat pants, t-shirts, socks, sports bras, towels and washcloths. She has since received more than 50 boxes of supplies provided by American Legion posts and auxiliaries across the nation.
"We shared the wish list so that people know what the needs are," Chirichella noted. "With 1,000 patients a month in one hospital, I don't think you can get too many people donating things. If you have duplication, it doesn't much matter because these are all consumable items."
She added that the combat medical facilities are also looking for things like pillow cases, bed sheets, clothing items for women, board games, and snacks -- fruit and nut bars, etc.