America Supports You: Grassroots Groups Gather for Summit
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 13, 2006 After a holiday tour of the White House, participants in today’s America Supports You Community Group Summit met at the Pentagon for a welcome from the program’s architect, a look at the past year, and a glimpse into the America Supports You program’s future.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld addresses a group representing more than 80 America Supports You grassroots organizations at the Pentagon, Dec. 13. The group was there for the America Supports You Community Group Annual Summit. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
America Supports You is a Defense Department program launched in 2004 that spotlights and facilitates support for the nation’s servicemembers from the American public and the corporate sector.
“It’s great to have you here today on our second annual America Supports You Summit at the Pentagon,” Allison Barber, deputy secretary of defense for internal communication and public liaison, told the group representing more than 80 America Supports You grassroots organizations.
“Through (America Supports You) and your partnership in this program, we have real ways to make sure that the troops always know – and their families always know – politics is one debate and one discussion,” she added. “But on the people side of that discussion, there’s only one message, and that’s that the American people support our troops.”
Barber commended all of the nearly 250 America Supports You members for their accomplishments this year. A combined total of more than 6 million care packages and letters have been sent to the troops. Groups have raised nearly $3.5 million in financial support for servicemembers and their families and have renovated more than two dozen homes for wounded servicemembers.
This is in addition to organizing and participating in Freedom Walks in all 50 states to commemorate 9/11 and honor the nation’s servicemembers, both past and present.
“Don’t ever slow down,” Barber encouraged the groups. “That’s the beauty of you. You’re agile. You’re effective. You move the needle.”
The group got a glimpse at some of the different avenues America Supports You will take in the new year. The program plans to bring Capitol Hill into the mix in 2007, Barber said.
“The Department of Defense’s strategy, on purpose, has been not to really be involved on the Hill in the first two years, … because we wanted people to know that America Supports You is not political,” she said. “In 2007, now we will reach out to the Hill and start an America Supports You caucus so that some of the issues that are concerns for you and your states and across the country will be able to bubble up with Congress.”
Of particular interest for 2007 is the New Year’s resolution America Supports You is encouraging its corporate members to make: “Adopt an America Supports You Grassroots Organization Today!”
Some -- like Jeanette Cram, founder of an organization called “Treat the Troops,” already have realized the benefit of partnering with an America Supports You corporate team member. Cram said a partnership between her organization and DuPont Teflon will help with her biggest challenge in getting fresh, homemade cookies to troops overseas: postage.
“America Supports You … got me hooked up with the right people,” Cram said. “Treat the Troops is not a big, powerful organization; there’s not a whole lot of us. (But) to be recognized by America Supports You and DuPont, that lends a lot of credibility to us.”
Cram said she hopes the summit would be an opportunity for her to meet and network with some of the other groups attending.
This was the second summit for teenager Brittany Bergquist of Norwell, Mass., and she agreed it’s a great way to meet people and develop new connections with groups that can either lend a hand or need a hand.
“We had such a great time last year and were able to meet so many great people that we thought it would be a really good idea to come back and try to network a little more,” said Brittany, who co-founded Cell Phones for Soldiers with her brother, Robbie, in April 2004. “There definitely are a lot of new faces that we don’t recognize from last year, so it’s nice to meet new people.”
The morning concluded with a briefing on the global war on terrorism by Air Force Brig. Gen. Mark O. Schissler and a discussion with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Both offered the group a chance to ask any questions they had.
Rumsfeld fielded a question that drew loud applause regarding how to go about changing the law to allow for reduced postage for groups shipping package overseas. The answer perhaps wasn’t what the group had hoped for, but it drew some chuckles. “Get your congressmen and senators to change the law,” Rumsfeld answered.